Tag Archives: Bollywood

In Perfect eHarmony

An edited version was published by SouthAsianParent.Com on 1st December 2010.

“You are not getting any younger,” my mother reminded me for the—I’ve actually lost count—umpteenth time in my life. “Don’t I know,” I wanted to retort. But well-brought up Indian girls don’t shoot questions back at their parents. Apparently, I had only one choice now. Shaadi.com. I couldn’t imagine the horror of explaining to my feminist friends in the future that I had found my husband on an online wedding bureau.

So what did I do? I turned to eHarmony. A dating site that boasts of matching individuals based on 26 personality factors. Twenty-six! I would be lucky if I found someone who matched me on three or four.

It was last summer. I had plenty of free time on my hands. So I signed up. The process took me three hours. I had to answer ten questionnaires that would pin down my 26 personality factors. Then I had to cut down my matches by other factors: religion, ethnicity, education, height, weight, food/lifestyle habits, and so on. All this narrowing of search didn’t leave me with a lot of choices. I was matched with quite a few individuals but they were all situated miles away.

An interesting part about communicating over eHarmony is that you have a guided communication process. And it is just that. A long process. You generally start off with five close-ended questions: “What would you do on a Saturday night?” types. Then you graduate to 10 must-haves and can’t-stands in a partner. I find this part very helpful. It exposes a person’s inner insecurities.

The third part is about answering three open-ended questions: “What is your greatest fear?” types. This part is great for assessing a potential partner’s writing skills. And if ‘bad grammar’ is one of your pet peeves (like it is mine), you will probably end up eliminating communication at this point. The last part of the process is open communication via emails.

Most of my contact with eligible bachelors lasted up to step three. It’s not only bad grammar that did the trick but also the kind of questions that were posed to me. You would think in the 21st century Indian men would have matured beyond clichéd traditional patriarchal views. Apparently samples such as these, who cannot score in real life, somehow end up at eHarmony too.

However, after a month of being on the website, I found someone in Kansas City. He was an IT professional with a keen interest in photography. Before long, we were chatting on gtalk for hours.

Before you start sighing, and imagining a beautiful ending to a possible Bollywood-style love story, let me warn you it lasted only a week. He realised after hours of exchanging our deepest fears and desires, that Toronto was really far away from Kansas City. He was deeply apologetic for wasting my time. And I was deeply apologetic for putting so much faith into a website. Let me also add, he is still single. But so am I, and what does that say?

Luckily, I had a back up plan. I got into graduate school. Miraculously, my family backed off for a while. I got off the Internet and decided to meet people the natural way: by socialising. I haven’t met him yet, but I am not giving up. If nothing works out by the time I am 30, shaadi.com is still out there. Meanwhile, I have to keep reminding myself that even though I am not getting any younger, I am at least getting a little wiser.

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The Slumdog Millionaire that never was…

An edited version was published by South Asian Generation Next on 8th December 2010.

Ruslaan Mumtaz. That name would not mean much to me (or, you) personally unless you have had come across this piece of news that would hint at a film history that could have been written differently.

Dev Patel

Think of that day when Dev Patel’s face flashed at you from the big screens. Even if you could ignore his natural good looks (think of his pouty lips that hint at a youthfulness that many girls would admit to have longed for), it would be a little difficult to get past Jamal’s anguish while he searched wildly for his Latika. And, you agreed among your friends while you debated and discussed the movie in detail, that yes, this guy could act. Not once was there any dispute that Patel was unfaithful to his role.

But imagine a different scenario. Think of another guy in Patel’s place. Think of Ruslaan Mumtaz.

The guy missed out on being the slumdog millionaire that we equate so freely with Patel’s anguish-filled eyes. As it turns out, at the time of the movie’s final auditions, the guy was “beefed up” for his role as a movie star in the mainstream Bollywood movie Jaane Kahan Se Aayi Hai. He was rejected for not being lean enough.

Ruslaan Mumtaz

But wait.

Before I could feel bad for the baby-faced Ruslaan…

Before I could start jumping to conclusions based on hearsay…

Before I could rely on the news item…

Before making up my mind at all, my inner journalist prodded me to watch his movies. Had this guy been capable of changing history, if not for his “muscles” at the time, as he claims?

The next thing on the agenda was to watch his movies Mera Pehla Pehla Pyaar and Teree Saang, both of which have done well commercially in India. Surprisingly, I found his slight awkwardness endearing. And, the irony is that while this guy is now a well known face among movie goers in India, Patel has lost himself in a stream of unknown faces in Hollywood (let’s not forget the bombed The Last Airbender blazing in his trail).

But do I think that Ruslaan could have been a better slumdog than Dev? Could he have pulled off an authentic Jamal being an Indian himself, instead of the British-born Patel? Would his anguish have been as great, if not greater?

Probably not.

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Mindlessness Over Reality: Saas-Bahu* Telly Soaps

This article was published on the CurryBear website on August 17 2010. *For reference: saas= mother-in-law; bahu = daughter-in-law.

Not being brought up in India, I violently reject old fashioned ideas of the stereotypical mother-in-law as projected by the many Indian television shows. Where the daughter-in-law is always obedient, subservient and a total slave to the domestic politics of an almost-always huge mansion-like house. Where the saas and bahu cannot happily co-exist because there is always a tug-of-war over the son. Where there is always an evil, conniving vamp (another bahu, or the unmarried sister, or the widowed aunt; take your pick) in cahoots with one of the servants hell bent on destroying the peace and quiet of their heavenly (and ultra over the top) abode. Where the women are always dressed in their best sarees and jewelery, even if they are only going to bed. To sleep.

I mean, come on! In a world where even Bollywood is changing (no, I am not talking about the increasing number of make out scenes) to imitate real life, why is the audience stuck on watching shows whose storyline hold no close resemblance to reality?

Starting this year, Yashraj films did attempt to come up with something haatke. Something other than the daily drama soaps. However, despite being a hit with the younger generation (ahem, like me), Rishta.Com, Seven, Powder and Mahi Way did not go down well with the saas-bahu shows addicts. After only a run of six months, due to low TRPs, these revolutionary shows died a sudden death.

My grandmother in India didn’t even know what I was talking about when I mentioned the new shows to her. “What? Rishta dot what?” she screeched from the buzzing telephone line. “I am happy watching Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi”. Because mother-in-law was once a daughter-in-law. She went onto regale me with the last episode where the husband’s first wife shows up but she is pregnant with his child. (Don’t ask).

What makes me mad though is not how insidiously integrated these saas-bahu shows are in the Indian telly watching culture, but how often we forget that these are unrealistic “made-up” worlds manufactured to distract us from our utterly normal (and perhaps, boring, for some) daily lives. For example, I cannot imagine my granny calling me shameless if I didn’t wear the traditional salwar kameez while in India. In fact, my liberal granny (who ironically enjoys these aforementioned vile shows) didn’t even bat an eyelid when I told her of my former boyfriend belonging to a different religion. She nodded wisely and said, “As long as he is a good guy”.

The point is, just as I cannot understand and stand the Twilight hype that has taken over the minds of every single girl/woman from as young as eleven to as old as forty and over, I fail to grasp the ever increasing and continued popularity of these shows that barely come close to reality.

As my former high school psychology teacher would say, “Arey, it’s pure entertainment!” I guess, for now, I can satisfy my curiosity with that, except the mindlessness of it all is immensely frustrating. I think I need to go watch my Sex and the City collection all over again.

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Singlehood to Doublehood: Indian Wedding outside India (Part 2 of 2)

It’s somebody else’s wedding (thank god). You breathe a sigh of relief and seat yourself in an inconspicuous corner, hoping to spend the three days of wedding celebrations in oblivion. But deep in your heart you know it’s next to impossible, since you are in your mid twenties and- horror of horrors- SINGLE. Somewhere your mother is conspiring with your aunt to find you a “nice boy”.

Unfortunately for you and other South Asian single women and men, weddings are seen to be ripe opportunistic sites to hook up one’s single sons and daughters. How typically Bollywood.

Imagine this: Boy and girl fall in love over the span of three days where he courts her through sangeet (he sings to her, of course), wedding (eyes meet over the sacred fire and play teasing games) and reception (where they end up dancing together and- in an ideal world- exchanging facebook contacts).

In the real world, aunties and uncles hope to latch onto the next eligible (and hopefully, available) bachelor for their daughter/niece/friend’s daughter/friend’s sister’s cousin’s daughter in India (the combinations are countless).

As it happened to my friend’s cousin, who had come over from New Jersey with his family to attend the wedding.

The aunties and uncles: “Are you single?” (I swear they said this in a chorus)

The single cousin: “Yes, I am happily single and intend to remain this way for as long as possible.”

Polite laughter.

The aunties and uncles: “But why? You should not think like that!”

Embarrassed nervous laughter from single cousin.

Personally, I am happy enjoying the eye-candy. So when the bride’s mother asked me if I was going to be next, I smiled carefully and said, “We’ll see, won’t we?”

Photograph: Copyright Sanchari Sur

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Interview with Pooja Kumar (upcoming actress in Anjaana Anjaani)

This is the complete version of the phone interview with Pooja Kumar (supporting actress in Anjaana Anjaani) which I conducted on 20th May 2010 at 10 am. An edited version was published in South Asian Generation Next on 26th May 2010:

“Believe in Your Dreams”: Actress Pooja Kumar Makes Her Dreams Come True

Growing up, I had always been under the impression that actresses and models were self-centered beings that co-existed with mere mortals only because they had to. However, a former Miss India USA, and an upcoming actress in Sajid Nadiadwala’s Anjaana  Anjaani, Pooja Kumar is anything but stuck up. And thus, I was quite unprepared for a friendly voice that greeted me at the other end of the line when I called her for our phone interview.

Thirty-three year old Kumar hails from an immigrant family with no connections in the film industry. Yet, she has managed to make a name for herself in a field few South Asians would willingly venture into. When asked why she chose acting, “of all things”, she laughs and answers, “I used to always play in musicals while growing up and Indian-Americans … were not inclined, motivated or inspired to go into the arts as a profession. It is sort of understood that entertainment is sort of unpredictable and our parents came here to have us have better opportunities… I understand their predicament for not gearing us to go into the entertainment field… so I set [acting] on the side and never thought of it as a full time profession.” However, it was the title of Miss India USA that brought her to the notice of Amitabh Bachchan Corp. Ltd. She managed to get chosen out of 60,000 contestants. However, she contends that despite her success, “[a]t that time the opportunities were opening up but it wasn’t full fledged available”. 

But there is more to Kumar than what meets the eye. Kumar, whose parents hail from Uttar Pradesh, speaks Hindi and Urdu at home. And yet, this fearless actress started her acting career with a Tamil movie (Kaadhal Rojave), a language that she has no knowledge of. How did she do it? “It’s really funny that you [ask this question]” Kumar answers, “they wrote the dialogues phonetically in English… But Tamil I can’t speak, or read, or write… it was difficult at first. But the first two weeks the writer would sit with me and practice with me… I kind of got used to it. I will tell you the biggest test of an actor is if you can act without knowing the language… It was very challenging… Basically, it was memorizing gibberish”. But she also adds that she has “a strong affiliation towards South India… [having] learnt Bharatnatyam in Chennai”.

 But acting aside, Kumar has also been a VJ for Channel V in India. What made her leave her job? “I wanted a great experience in India and transcend and move over to the US. Over here, there is so few of us who are actually doing it professionally and on a full time basis…  I wanted to be one of the people to pioneer and get more people involved in the entertainment business. As Indians, we are so talented… Five years ago… I took a risk and left a real good opportunity and came over here to encourage South Asians to write… and create more projects”.

Kumar has also donned the producer’s hat in the past with her two short films “1001 Auditions” and “Shoot My Life”. Did she feel more responsible because she was financially invested in them? “Producing a film is a whole other realm of film-making. As an actor, you learn your lines… as a producer you start the project from basically a piece of paper. And then, you see the journey of this project all the way up to the screen. It’s almost like a baby. You see it from its birth and then you see it grow up. I am very much invested in all my projects… as an actor, not all of the things are in your hands… but as a producer… you can add so many different layers to [the project]… it’s a whole other level of investment. Financial, emotional or artistic.” 

 On Kal Penn, and her work with him in Law and Order, Kumar immediately responds, “oh, Kal is amazing! He is talented, wonderful and a humble human being. Just working two days with him was fantastic… he is someone that I definitely look up to and get inspired by because he is one man who has been able to make a name in the international arena. He is… one of the few people as an Indian-American we have that we can try to be”.

 And Anjaana Anjaani? Have you started working for it already? “Yes” she pauses tentatively and adds, “We are not supposed to talk too much about it because its releasing pretty soon”. Having read about Nadiadwala’s strict instructions to his stars to not tweet about the upcoming movie, I was well aware of this fact, but I had to persist. To avoid putting Kumar under duress, I asked instead, how was it working with Priyanka Chopra and Ranbir Kapoor? “I really admire Priyanka. I think Priyanka and Ranbir are probably the two of the most finest actors in Bollywood to work with right now… I was very lucky to work with a woman like that. She is extremely hardworking and very talented. She knows exactly what her role is and how to handle it in many situations… she has a versatility about her”.

 And what about the future? Kumar has her hands full with two scripts and a play. She says, “I am reading two scripts right now. One is from Bollywood and one is from Hollywood… I am producing a play later on this year, but you have to just wait and see”.

Born in St. Louis, Kumar expresses no disconnect as an Indian-American while growing up. She feels “fortunate… to have gone back to India every summer”. She insists “I have never experienced any disconnect and I think it was primarily because my family and my extended family were very close… we were involved in the community that made a difference… My parents opened the Mahatma Gandhi Center” as a way for people to come together to celebrate festivals such as Holi, Janmashtami and so on.

She also has a deep ardor for her profession, “I love what I do and I want the younger generation… to go out and have the confidence to do what they want to do. If you are passionate and confident, you can achieve anything”.

We concluded the interview with her personal mantra: “Always follow and believe in your dreams and your dreams will come true”. I believe so, too, Pooja. I believe so, too.

Photo credits (Pooja’s pics): Anokhi magazine; Taken from Gallery at www.poojakumar.com

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