It’s been over a week since I saw American indie, SPRING, directed by brilliantly by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, but I haven’t really stopped thinking about it. Love is my favourite genre of all time, but only a few movies have made me reflect over it, and those films need not necessarily be entirely about love at all.
For example, the last film that made me deliberate over love was Spike Jonze’s HER. Unfortunately, I never did end up writing about the film, and I know that Her is about so many larger issues than love – but at its heart, it was about the heart. Because when you think about it, is there really an issue larger than love? Deeper than matters of the heart? Wars have been fought about it, Facebook has been invented over it, wonders of the world have been created for it…
What I really did love about Her – and I think I’ll go back to the film one of these days to feel again what I felt when I first saw it – was that it asked a very pertinent question about love, and attempted to explore the answers to the same: Can love exist beyond bodies? If yes, then can love exist beyond souls too? Of course, in the answer to this question, lies an entire universe of questions about the mind, loneliness, intimacy and sex, which needs to be answered first. And the genius of Her lies in the fact that each one of its viewers would have a different answer to the same, and each one of those answers would be the own, personal truth of that viewer.
Spring, of course, is not nearly as complex as Her, and it doesn’t need to be, because the beauty of the film lies in the simplicity of its theme. But Spring too, raises a pertinent question about an aspect of love that may seem all too simple, but is, in fact, the most complex question, perhaps, of all time: How do you know it’s love? And as an extension to the same: *When* do you know it’s love?
I cannot continue any further without mild spoilers about the plot, but trust me, as in all romantic films, the movie’s not really about the climax at all, but about the journey towards it. Spring is a genre mash up of a romantic comedy and body horror. It’s Richard Linklater meets David Cronenberg; or Woody Allen meets Guillermo Del Toro. But the terrific thing about the film is that it’s got its own, unique take on love, which is distinctly different to those of the aforementioned masters of cinema.
If you’ve seen the trailer of the film above, you’ll know that Spring is about a guy (the charming Lou Taylor Pucci) who meets a beautiful Italian girl (and my God, Nadia Hilker *is* beautiful) and over multiple nights of a Before Sunrise-esque romance, falls desperately in love with her. But instead of a train that the girl needs to get on, there’s a fantastical, paranormal, biological or perhaps straight-up twisted phenomenon that the girl needs to get with, and her love is tested against this ticking clock, but also by this phenomenon.
To go into the territory of strong spoilers: The girl has a condition wherein she’ll morph into another woman every 20 years (but only after becoming a monster first) and live another life from scratch, unless… she falls in love with somebody. And that’s the brilliance of Spring: writer Justin Benson possibly worked backwards with the answer to the question of ‘How/when do you know it’s love’ – when you morph into another being – and created this beautiful, quirky horror romcom that leads upto the ‘will she/won’t she’ climax on drugs.
The body horror element of the script is what lends a wonderful weirdness to this odd scifi romcom, but as with Her, at its heart, Spring is not about the body, but about the heart too. It takes the fear and profound anxiety of learning whether or not the person you love, loves you back, and compounds it with the terrifying fantasy element of the worst way to get turned down ever: by getting eaten by the monster that person turns into! But as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… as a couple, right?
Lame jokes aside, the gorgeously shot (by Aaron Moorhead) and directed Spring is easily my favourite indie film of the year so far and perhaps will be on the top of my list through 2015, because ultimately, it is about love, in its purest and most heartbreaking form, the love that ‘comes around only a couple of times if you’re lucky.’ And if you’re really lucky, she’ll know that it’s love too.
Note: This feature was first published in the Scholastic Yearbook 2015.
Looking back, if there’s a single word that can be used to characterise 2014 in television, in both India and America, it is: potential. Where earlier television was the sidekick of film, offering popcorn entertainment to the viewers until the next era-defining film would come along and offer a more intelligent, credible and cerebral experience to them; at the moment, both television and film are almost on equal footing. Significantly, if the past couple of years are any indication (with the likes of Sajid Khan films and Michael Bay films slowly turning off the human population one film at a time), the tide is slowly but surely turning towards the rise of television as the primary medium of choice for the perceptive viewer.
American television has consistently been brimming with potential for the last few years now, and in 2014, with the rise of auteur-driven (Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick, David Fincher’s upcoming Utopia), star-driven (Matthew McConaughey starrer True Detective and Billy Bob Thornton starrer Fargo, etc) and platform agnostic content-driven shows (Netflix’s Orange is the New Black and Amazon Prime’s Transparent, etc), it does seem that this is television’s golden age where America is concerned, and the channels, studios and showrunners will keep building on this potential to lead into a new era of path breaking programming where television will trump its big screen counterpart, cinema.
On the other hand, Indian television is at the cusp of change. For the longest time, it seemed that television in India seemed to be Benjamin Button-ing itself: it started off well enough, with mature, intelligent and rich programming (Hum Log, Buniyaad, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Ramayan, Mahabharat) in the ‘80s. Then Ekta Kapoor and Balaji television came along in the late ‘90s and the early ‘00s and saas-bahued everything in her way (Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kahani Ghar Ghar Kii, Kasauti Zindagi Kii, etc), and ever since, Indian television programming has consistently been regressing in terms of IQ, maturity and content.
But over the last couple of years, and more so especially in 2014, the downward spiral of television content in India has momentarily paused and there is a sense of coming of age, ironically, as if after reverse aging, the programming has hit adolescence. With viewer fatigue obvious in the kind of small town centric, conservative leaning, ‘same same but different’ programming that’s been around for over a decade now, channels have now begun taking risks and experimenting with its content, to test the waters for a bit. There is incredible potential in the kind of ideas being thrown around and the shows being launched, and if the audience come of age too, with their acceptance of quality programming, then 2014 could be the year to have ushered in an era of much-needed change.
As we look forward to 2015 for a better understanding of where things are headed, here’s a look back at how the television landscape was altered in 2014:
If there’s ever been a year for Indian television that has posed more questions than given answers, it has to be the recently concluded 2014. The year gone by was arguably one of the riskiest for television in nearly a decade, with channels from across genres and segments trying their hands at something ‘new’ and ‘different’, however clichéd that may sound, to break through the mould and be the progenitors of quality television. The catch? The risks have yet to yield any rewards, off the bat.
Different is the new normal
Sony, that’s almost always been at the forefront of change, be it with Indian Idol or Kaun Banega Crorepati or for that matter, Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin, again took charge with a very expensive gamble in Anurag Kashyap’s Amitabh Bachchan starrer thriller miniseries, Yudh, which brought talents like Nawazuddin Siddique, Kay Kay Menon, Sarika and many more on to the small screen. The 20-episode weekly series, that cost Rs 3 crore per episode to make, got a certain amount of critical appreciation but failed to take off in a big way. The reasons may have nothing to do with the unconventional format – the show could never elevate itself from decent to must-see.
Yudh had more at stake than Abhinay Deo’s Anil Kapoor starrer 24 India, which ended its 24 episode run in December 2013, because it was an original series instead of a remake, so its average TRPS did not help the cause of unconventional programming. There is still hope, though, since 24 India has been renewed for a season season, and now Star TV has jumped onto the miniseries bandwagon with Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Everest, which was shot on location in the Himalayas and features music by AR Rahman. Life OK has also pulled producer-director Vipul Shah back to TV (since he, Gowarikar, Kashyap and many others started their careers there) for a miniseries starring Rannvijay Singha and Adah Sharma, while Zee is reportedly remaking the hit American TV series Heroes that is expected to launch in 2015.
Filmmakers on TV
While getting film stars to television is a trend that’s been around for a few years, bonafide filmmakers mining the medium of television to tell their stories, and adaptations of American TV shows can be pinned down in a big way to 2014. Apart from the aforementioned examples, six of India’s best-known filmmakers, Abhinay Deo, Anurag Basu, Anurag Kashyap, Nikhil Advani, Rohan Sippy and Shoojit Sircar also came together in 2014 for a project called MTV Films, where the directors made an hour-long feature film each for youth channel MTV, of different genres, but all catering to the youth.
Kashyap also made a six-part thriller miniseries called Traffic, which he also hosted, in association with human trafficking awareness initiative MTV EXIT; while Mahesh Bhatt adapted an unreleased film of his on bonded labour into a TV series called Udaan, for Colours. Lined up next are an Anurag Basu TV series on Rabindranath Tagore for an upcoming channel and a rumoured remake of Prison Break; a Nikhil Advani TV series that is an adaptation of an undisclosed American show rumoured to be starring Konkana Sen Sharma; and a potential adaptation of Homeland by Anil Kapoor Productions. Kajol is said to be in talks for the remake of The Killing while Madhuru Dixit-Nene is rumoured to be on board for an adaptation of The Good Wife. Only one such show needs to take off in a big way, and soon, the idiot box will be the new multiplex.
Genre entertainment vs rajma chawal
In the quest for unconventional and targeted programming, there is a shift from General Entertainment Channel to give rise to the Genre Entertainment Channel, exclusively focused on meeting the niche demand of the 21st century audience. Zee TV introduced a brand new channel, Zindagi, which showcased the best shows from across the border and premiered to some extremely favourable critical reviews. Sony has recently started Sony Pal, a TV channel for the new age woman from ages 15-34, while MTV has launched MTV Indies, to showcase the best in independent, urban music, movies, stand-up comedy and art. A new channel, Epic, focused purely on mythological and historical shows has begun development in 2014 too.
While all of this is heartening news for the viewer looking for more; the viewer looking for the same – or less – can rest assured that the status on their favourite show is unlikely to change soon. Comedy With Kapil still remains the number one non-fiction show on TV, mythologicals like Mahabharat (though it ended its year long run) and Jodha Akbar still yield the highest TRPs, Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chasmha is going to stay ooltah for a while, whereas daily soaps like Diya Aur Baati Hum, Pyaar Ka Dard Meetha Meetha Pyaara Pyaara, Saath Nibhaana Saathiya and Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai continue to rule the roost. The genres of saas-bahu, romance, crime, reality, mythology and comedy are as part of the Indian’s staple diet as is rajma-chawal; no matter the new delicacies introduced on the menu, rajma-chawal will always be fulfilling.
It is only a matter of time now before theatres will be relegated only to popcorn blockbusters and superhero films not just through the summer months but all year round, and American television will become the first choice of auteuer filmmakers and A-list talent to tell the stories they want told. The golden age of American television started with HBO and The Sopranos; and today, every channel from the lesser-known Cinemax to online streaming platforms like Netflix are giving dime-a-dozen reasons for the audience to convert their homes into mini theatres.
McConaissance and True Detective
If 2013 was the year of AMC and Breaking Bad, then 2014 was the year of HBO and True Detective, as Nic Pizzalatto’s anthology crime miniseries enchanted the entire world and perhaps even the rest of the universe into a haze of Matthew McConaughey worship. Through the show, McConaughey and costar Woody Harrelson became the face of what television is likely to look like in the coming years: legit film stars – and not just film actors – doing career-defining work on the small screen. It is not a coincidence that McConaughey won the Best Actor Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club a couple of months after True Detective – anyone who understand who the Academy Awards works knows that his win was more because of the buzz around his work in the TV show than in the movie, which most voters, and almost all viewers outside of critics, may not even have seen.
True Detective gave way a few months later to another anthology crime series, FX’s Fargo, created by Noah Hawley and executive produced by the Coen Brothers, based on their 1996 film of the same name. Fargo starred bonafide film stars Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton, among a host of other outstanding talent like Allison Tolman and Colin Hanks, and proved that the True Detective model is here to stay.
The year was rounded off by with the CBS miniseries Extant, starring Halle Berry and executive produced by Steven Spielberg, Sundance TV series The Honourable Woman starring Maggie Gyllenhaal HBO series The Leftovers, with a cast led by Justin Thereoux and Cinemax’s critically acclaimed, period drama The Knick, starring Clive Owen, directed by Steven Soderbergh. The year’s end also saw Nick Jonas and Frank Grillo face off in DirecTV’s boxing drama Kingdom.
The cinemafication of TV
If you’re wondering what the success of these shows mean, it’s quite simple, really: more of the biggest stars and the biggest directors doing such shows on cable channels and streaming platforms like HBO, Showtime, Netflix and Amazon Prime! So expect in 2015 Dwayne Johnson comedy Ballers, Billy Crystal comedy The Comedians, a Martin Scorsese series starring Olivia Wilde, a HBO miniseries starring James Marsden, Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harries, David Fincher directing the American adaptation of the British TV series Utopia and Cameron Crowe making an Almost Famous-kind of TV series on musicians, and of course, Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn and Rachel McAdams confirmed for True Detective’s season 2.
The cinemafication of TV is almost a surety now when you consider the number of superhero and comic book shows that made it to television in 2014: Apart from the second season of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and the third season of DC’s Arrow, Batman prequel Gotham, an eponymous show on DC Superhero Flash and another show on DC anti-hero Constantine all premiered in fall 2014 to encouraging TRPs. Considering Netflix has a plan of creating an Avengers sort of superhero team called The Defenders, with each of its four heroes getting their own shows starting in 2014 with The Daredevil, you can basically start stocking up the popcorn in your house already.
The rajma-chawal of the US, network shows and ratings juggernauts like The Good Wife, Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, among many others, all continued to impress too; while new shows on existing channels like Manhattan, The Divide and You’re The Worst, all proved that good programming need not be limited to cable channels.
Late Night shows and John Oliver In non-fiction, late night chat shows and news comedy shows underwent a massive facelift in 2014, indicating a shift towards appeasing younger audiences instead of the usual late night staple viewership of old folks. Jimmy Fallon took over The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and his The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon was even more successful. Seth Meyers took over Jimmy Fallon’s old talk show, and Late Night with Seth Meyers was a reasonable hit too. Talk show legend David Letterman announced his retirement and the popular Stephen Colbert was roped in as replacement; while relatively unknown James Corden was announced as Craig Ferguson’s successor on The Late Late Show, after Ferguson announced his exit as well.
But the biggest critical and commercial success and an instant late night icon was born when John Oliver exited The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to helm his own news comedy show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The show, the very first weekly news comedy show, became a massive fan favourite with its ballsy and hilarious takes on some of the most controversial issues from drone strikes to the American prison system, and Oliver’s impassioned rants became the stuff of internet legend in its very first season.
The show’s success and Oliver’s acceptance in the mainstream marked an year of great hope for television as a medium of not just entertainment but also intellectual stimulation; and left viewers with a promise that even as viewing platforms continually evolve, the highest quality content will be available just a click away.
Sometime last year, Indian-American actor Kal Penn (The Namesake) tweeted, “Creepy Australian Guy: Whoa, are you Russell Peters?! Me: No, I’m Kunal Nayyar. Creepy Australian Guy: I love Parks & Rec! Me: High 5!” It was a joke alright, but Penn, who is arguably the best-known Indian actor in Hollywood, having starred in the hit Harold and Kumar trilogy, made a strong point about how brown-skinned actors still have a long way to go before a white-skinned audience gives them the acknowledgement they so deserve.
Less than two years later, Creepy Australian Guy may as well be the minority audience, because one look at the current film and TV landscape, and it’s all but clear that young Hollywood has a new mantra: diversity. This could perhaps be because of the tremendous talent that South Asians have to offer, or this could simply be sound business sense – as the world continues shrinking, South Asian audiences need to be appeased because of their enormous numbers and their healthy buying power.
But if, at the time they went about finding a foothold in Hollywood, Penn, Nayyar (The Big Bang Theory), Peters (stand-up comedian) and Aziz Ansari (Parks and Recreations), along with a handful of others, most prominently writer-actor Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project), subverted the norm, they may well part of the reason that diversity is the norm today. Of course, Hollywood may now grapple with other kind of absurdities – like which minor community talent (among Asians, South Asians and Latinos) to go with in which project – but the good news is, the door of opportunity is now wide-open.
And so, as young Indians in Hollywood firmly make their presence felt in mainstream American projects on every creative turf, from writing to acting, the challenge has now shifted from finding a voice for the community to finding bigger platforms for the voice to reach a global audience. “I think it is the responsibility of every generation to improve upon the ways and perceptions of the last one, and I want to do that with India in Hollywood,” says Adi Shankar, 29-year-old producer of films like Mark Wahlberg-starrer Lone Survivor and Liam Neeson-starrer The Grey, who was recently voted among the most influential global Indian men in a men’s interest magazine.
“Korean films compete on an Indian level, why can’t ours? I’m committed to putting our films in the international spotlight,” he adds. Actor Tiya Sircar, who has acted opposite comic legends Owen Wilson and Matthew Perry in Hollywood blockbusters, is excited about the evolving cinematic landscape of India too. “You look at a Kalki Koechlin, who is not necessarily from India, being accepted purely on talent, or The Lunchbox working just as well in India as it did internationally, and as an actor, that’s such great news for me. I want to contribute to the change too,” she says.
Indo-Russian actor Annet Mahendru, who is a series regular on spy drama, The Americans, on the other hand, is miffed that she loses out on Indian roles because she looks “ethnically ambiguous’, and this conundrum is echoed by actor-director Natasha Chandel too. As Hollywood becomes cosmopolitan and moves beyond stereotypes, this urge among young Indians to artistically express the Indian side of their blood is perhaps going to be the driving force of the global Indian identity over the next decade.
Director Shripriya Mahesh puts things in perspective, “I may not have lived in India for a long time now, but I consider myself very Indian. I have many stories inside me, but the one that I feel like I have to make is set in India; it is never possible to truly move away from your country.”
Here’s a look at some of the young Indians in New Hollywood:
ADI SHANKAR, 29 Creative Producer, Multi-Hyphenate, Rebel with a cause Claim to Fame: Producer of Dredd, The Grey, Lone Survior, Killing Them Softly What he’s upto next: Producing the all-female ‘Expendabelles’, the Dredd animated miniseries and acting in five-odd films. Check out his Power/Rangers Unauthorized Bootleg Universe short film here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vw5vcUPyL90
He is a creator not a businessman or producer. It blew my find finding out that at the time of the homoerectus, there was another humanoid species. They didn’t survive because our ancestors were creators: when it rained, we created shelter; when it got cold, we created fire. Creation is the reason our species is alive so the fact that there are dudes who want to chill behind a desk all day makes me sad.
He was inspired to make his own rules. I was misdiagnosed with cancer when I was 18. Three weeks after that the doctors said, ‘We are sorry! We screwed up!’ I realized that no one really knows what they’re talking about. Before, it was like, you would go to one place, you’d learn what’s cool, polite and right, and then, at another place, you’d be asked to adapt again. But after that, I stopped giving a f**k.
The West welcomed him with open arms, when his people didn’t. I don’t spend a lot of time in India because they people there used to think I’m a screw-up, and they’d ask me to give up films. But I never gave up. I was discouraged by other brown people that they don’t like brown faces in Hollywood, which is just bullsh*t. Me being brown has had absolutely bearing, I was accepted here completely. You know what’s a problem? Being White and from Ohio, because then you are competing with everybody.
His eyes are set on India now. I’m presenting Gangs of Wasseypur internationally because I’m committed to taking our people into global spotlight. We have very interesting stories to tell beyond couples who can’t get together because of their fathers. Anurag Kashyap, Vasan Bala and others are doing some fantastic stuff in the independent scene. I want to deconstruct the stereotypes about our people and I will sure as hell do that from here. I even want to cast an Indian actress in Expendebelles!
ANNET MAHENDRU , 25 Actor, Indo-Russian, 20-something, stunner Claim to Fame: Playing Nina Sergeevna Krylova on Cold war spy drama/thriller, The Americans You can see her next in: Penguins of Madagascar, Sally Pacholok & Bridge and Tunnel in movies; and Season 3 of The Americans on Star World Premiere
[Read a larger interview I have done with Annet Mahendru for The Sunday Guardian here: https://tanejamainhoon.com/2014/11/10/annetmahendruinterview/]
She considers herself to be a ‘gypsy girl’. I remember hiding in the bathroom in Afghanistan as war went on outside. In Russia, during the cold war, people were fascinated with me because I was the rare foreign-looking kid. In Germany, I picked up Indian culture from my father’s siblings. In New York, I grew up having friends from all ethnicities. I got cast in The Americans because the creator thought I had the background of a spy!
She wants to do transformative stories. I thin human beings are capable of anything and I would like to access that in my work and in my storytelling. I want to have the ability to transform beyond me and my personal beliefs. Nina is a KGB officer and yet she’s able to connect with people across the world even when she’s being a double agent, because ultimately it’s about being human.
Hollywood doesn’t believe she’s Indian. It’s hard to get people to break stereotypes and look past your appearance. They think Russians have blue eyes and blond hair so pre-The Americans, I’d not get cast as a Russian. I never get Indian roles because they have a certain idea of what an Indian looks like and they aren’t able to ethnically categorise me. I want to move beyond ethnicity in casting.
She is dying to work in Bollywood. When I was 5 and guests would come to our house, I’d put on my Indian dress and dance to ‘Choli ke peeche kya hai’ for them (laughs). I love Shah Rukh Khan and everything from Devdas to Chennai Express. I have explored my Russian side now, so I’m thirsty to explore and express my Indian side. Help me!
KARAN SONI, 25 Actor, funnyman, future sitcom star Claim to Fame: Jurassic World director’s Sundance-award winning film Safety Not Guaranteed and IT comedy, Beta Watch him next in: Paul Feig’s sitcom, Other Space, and Jack Black-starrer Goosebumps, among others
He went to school in LA because of The OC. I would watch The OC and think, ‘Wow! What a magical world!’ I secretly applied to colleges here after watching it. When I did tell my parents, they thought I was doing business studies here! I kept tricking them until I had to tell them that I am studying theatre, and even then I lied to them saying I’ll be a producer because they never thought I could be an actor. But now they’re super on board, and even have google alerts on me.
His worst audition is definitely is definitely one of the worst auditions ever. In my first audition, they asked me to play a terrorist, gave me a plastic AK 47 and a scene where a white woman is crying, ‘Why are you doing this’ and there’s a bomb about to go off. I was asked to pray *anything* in Hindi that sounds scary and them my character is shot. It was the most horrifying experience of my life (laughs).
Safety Not Guaranteed’s Aubrey Plaza is his cool friend and Jake Johnson is his weird uncle. Working with Aubrey and Jake was like the best acting class in comedy ever. Aubrey is so cool, she once called me to her house for a board game night and I walked in to find Michael Cera there, and the three of us played ‘Apples to Apples’ all night long. And Jake’s like this cool, weird older uncle, who I’d have discussions on life with and who’d force me to drink whiskey and stuff and I’d refuse!
He’s ultimately a Delhi boy who likes Karan Johar movies. I’m a big Shah Rukh Khan fan. I love Bollywood and I love Karan Johar kind of movies; my favourite is Kal Ho Na Ho. But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do a song-and-dance movie, no one will buy me as a Bollywood hero. I’d love to continue working in TV because I love playing the same character for a long period of time, and of course, having a job for 9 months of the year too.
NATASHA CHANDEL, 30 Actor, Host, Digital Creative, Multi-tasker Claim to Fame: Her web series Mumbai Chopra that she created, produced, directed and starred in, and hosting MTV News What she’s upto next: Directing and produced the web series, The Can Check out the full series, Mumbai Chopra here: https://www.youtube.com/user/MumbaiChopra
Her first short film won awards everywhere. My very first camera gig when I was a 17 year old in Canada. It was a short film called Pria, about an Indian girl who uses her love for the movies to tell this boy that she loves her. The film went to over 15 film festivals worldwide and won a lot of awards and got me my first meeting with NBC in the US. People would even ask me to quote lines from the film all the time. It was surreal!
She did everything on Mumbai Chopra. I grew up watching sitcoms and Russell Peters and I have always just preferred comedies because I’m a happy person. I created Mumbai Chopra as a spinoff of Paris Hilton. She is a socialite with a good heart, who could be the daughter of a spiritual guru. I was working with MTV News at the time, so had to write, produce, direct, fund, and act in this in my off time.
Casting directors find it hard to think of her as an Indian.
I’ve been going to a lot of auditions for Hispanic and ethnically ambiguous roles because casting directors don’t believe I am Indian. They usually think an Indian is a dark-skinned or quirky looking person. Once, a casting director said, ‘How can you be Indian? You are pretty!’ I was so angry… I mean, have you even seen our people? They are some of the prettiest in the world!
She wants to be a comedy showrunner. I made Mumbai Chopra because I wanted to make a show where people would realise that Americans and Indians are not all that different. I wanted to create someone who’d be funny for American audiences. Also, the only way to change the status quo for Indians is to write our own stuff. I love creating and I love comedy, so my dream is to be the next Mindy Kaling or the next Tina Fey.
SANJAY SHAH Writer, Producer, Occasional stand-Up comedian, All-round storyteller Claim to Fame: Writing/producing Courtney Cox’s Cougar Town He last worked on: Military comedy Enlisted. What he’s upto currently: Producing and writing on ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat
He started off in politics! My dad was an engineer for 25 years before he decided to be a small businessman and get a Burger King franchise. I started my career as a legislative aide at the California State Capitol. I worked for a state assemblyman. But I really wanted to be a stand-up comedian, and I also wanted to have a family. Writing for comedies on TV was a pretty good compromise.
He’s had an eventful Hollywood career. In 2007, I wrote an episode of King of the Hill called ‘Grand Theft Arlen’, and threw a party because I was so excited. Since then, I wrote for Trey Parker and Matt Stone at South Park, became a writer/producer (which means you have more responsibility running the writers room on occasion, giving notes on cuts of episodes, communicating with executives and actors, etc), sold a semi-autobiographical comedy that didn’t get picked to series but helped me buy a house, and almost got run over by Mel Brooks once.
He’s never faced racism. People don’t care what you look like behind the camera. Every year that I’ve done this, Hollywood has gotten more diverse both in front and behind the camera. I think it’s a good thing. Why Indian actors may get stereotyped on TV shows just comes down to the writers. I think there’s lazy writers and then there are good writers. Good writers can nail the nuances.
He would love to write for Indian TV… or not. I’m very interested in writing for Indian television. I would love to write a show about a daughter who doesn’t get along with her mother-in-law. Do you guys have anything like that already?
SHRIPRIYA MAHESH Filmmaker, Entrepreneur, Mother-of-twins extraordinaire Claim to Fame: Directed a short film starring James Franco and Jessica Chastain that will release in December as part of an anthology, The Colour of Time What she’s directing next: Varenya, an international feature film to be shot in India
She’s used to manage a $400 million business for eBay before films. I wanted to be a photographer at 7, but growing up in Chennai, I realised that if I wanted to pursue something creative, I had to first find a way to support and sustain myself. So I got into Harvard Business School, then eventually into eBay. Only when I got engaged to someone in New York, I decided to do a three month intensive filmmaking course at NYU. I loved it so much that I got into filmmaking.
She believes working in tech is a lot like working in films. In tech, I was doing something creative too – coming up with an idea for a product and making it happen, which is like films. Also, like films, in tech, the last 10% takes up 60% of the time. It can get overwhelming but you push towards perfection, because millions will sample your product. That training has helped me in films.
She took a James Franco class on Directing Poetry at Tisch School of Arts James insisted that we shoot our entire short films with temporary locations and actors, in the exact same way, before shooting the actual film. He does that with every film he directs too. So you get to see what works, what doesn’t, what angles need to be changed; and you save time, effort and money on the actual shoot.
Dev Benegal is producing her first full-length feature film. We became friends through an acquaintance, so when I wrote Varenya, I coerced him to produce it. He loved it, read each draft, came to every pitch session, and has been a fantastic producer. The film is personal so I want to make it right. I would rather take time and make a good film than make an average film fast.
She has worked for legends like JJ Abrams, Alfonso Cuaron and David S. Goyer already. They are all legends and so different from one another! I think the biggest thing is that they all have strong points of view and a vision that they are able to communicate with confidence. The idea-generating part of their brains is also very strong. It’s like a muscle that has been strengthened with years of practice.
She is fascinated by the dark side of things. I am a happy person but I’ve always been attracted to things where the stakes are raised to life and death. I like exploring what makes human being be and do bad. My family had to emigrate from Kuwait because of the Gulf War so perhaps it is to do with hearing stories about that. It’s become a joke in The Americans writing room now that I love writing action and torture scenes.
She’s made it even as an Indian in a white male-dominated TV writing environment. People tend to hire who they know and usually its white males because they can have a boys club in the writing room, where they don’t have to be politically correct when making jokes. However, people are also more accepting that diversity provides the kind of perspective needed for complex writing. Eg. I got hired on The Americans because my parents had an arranged marriage just like the spies on the show.
She is looking towards India next. India is a rich setting for stories. I’d love to do a coproduction between two countries; a story about a clash between two cultures, or that involves an interweaving of the two cultures, would best represent me, since I’ve grown up in the U.S. but I’m still connected to my Indian heritage.
TIYA SIRCAR, 32 Actor, comic star, next big thing Claim to Fame: The Internship with Owen Wilson & Vince Vaughn, 17 Again with Zac Effron and Matthew Perry You can see her next in: Sabine in the animated series Star Wars Rebels and the lead in movie Miss India America
She was cast as the female Barney in How I Met Your Dad. (Laughs) If you had to draw parallels, that’s the closest one I guess. I played Juliette Banerjee, a no-holds barred, unapologetic and sassy girl, who was such a departure from the sweet and cute roles I get to play because Indian women are usually not given roles that are too ‘liberated’, right? It was a really fun character and I wish the show had been picked up, but it was a privilege to get to play it.
She’s worked with comic legends Robin Williams, Owen Williams, Vince Vaughn and Matthew Perry. When I was sitting opposite Matthew Perry in the first table read of 17 Again, I almost got a heart attack! And Robin Williams (in The Crazy Ones) was obviously such a legend. I mean, these guys are the best at what they do. To get to actually do comedy with them and get a free master class in improve comedy from them was surreal.
She’s made it big by overcoming a lot stereotypes. Hollywood at present is more willing to make a male character on a TV show Indian than a female. I was once finalized for a supporting role in Whitney but it had come down to whether they should make the male best friend Indian or the female best friend Indian and they went with male because that’s more user friendly. There are more Kunal Nayyars and Aziz Ansaris than Mindy Kalings.
She has a good head on her shoulders. Getting my family to come to the premiere of The Internship was a special moment for me. I just hope it made my father feel that her kid has a legitimate career and isn’t just chasing a pipe dream. My mom’s proud of me but always asks me not to get into trouble by putting my thoughts on issues out on social media. I think social media can be used for a lot more than just selfies and what you eat for breakfast so if I see any injustice or believe in a cause, I would definitely talk about it on Twitter.
(Full Disclosure: I work at YRF but this post isn’t sponsored by the studio but comes from the heart of a filmbuff who watched the movie in a theater with a paid ticket, instead of a film screening!)
It’s strange but I distinctly remember how every Dibakar Banerjee movie has left me feeling. I remember being euphoric at the end of Khosla Ka Ghosla. This was an Ocean’s 11 devoid of gloss, cool, swag or for that matter, George Clooney. But Anupam Kher Khosla and his motley bunch of family and friends made me want to whistle out loud for kicking Khurana’s butt so hard and so well. There was such a satisfaction that I felt after the Khoslas avenged Khurana for me – yes, I wanted to avenge him to because the film made me feel that it had happened to me, or someone I know really well.
Love, Sex Aur Dhokha made me feel cheap and ashamed. I’m not even sure why because I have never done anything like the protagonists in the film or subscribed to any of the views they had. But I felt dirty after watching the film, because I was part of a system that allows such tragedies to happen on a daily basis. I should have felt helpless but instead I felt mad that I had allowed this to happen; as if I played some part in making this possible.
In fact, it was Shanghai that made me feel helpless. It made me realise more than ever before that there is no such thing as one India. That India can unfortunately never be looked at as a single entity, because of the hundreds of worlds that it inhabits – and because most of these worlds are at odds with each other, at some level. I felt sad that one India will have to be left behind for another India to move forward, and I felt frustrated that this this won’t be allowed to happen so we may remain in this pathetic gridlock forever.
It was Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye! that made me feel the most among all Dibakar Banerjee films. I felt for days, for weeks, for months – and every time I simply think about the movie, I feel even now. This isn’t a feeling I can describe or elucidate in words, more so because it felt like the distinct lack of all emotions. It was the feeling of emptiness – the most difficult and demanding of emotions, one that you cannot shake off, because you don’t know how to. Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye is, for me, one of the greatest modern day Indian movies because of the hole it left in my heart.
I talked about Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye! last because Banerjee’s new film, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is a movie that made me feel the exact opposite of it. What is the opposite of feeling empty? Feeling everything! I felt possibly every emotion in my chest from thumping tension during the opening credits to excitement and euphoria to perplexity and panic to impatience and insight, to jaw-dropping awe during the final shots. What I felt during Byomkesh Bakshy was the mother of all feelings – the feeling that you seldom get while watching a Hindi film in a big screen: I was THRILLED!
Detective Byomkesh Bakhsy! is basically Detective Byomkesh Bakshy Begins, but the film has been made so that even within the inception of the movie, there is the inception of the detective. So the first half of the film is the origin of the man and is actually Byomkesh Bakshy begins and by the end of the second half, we come to reach the origin of the detective, and Detective Byomkesh Bakshy begins. This may be why the film has two very distinct paces – the first half is beautiful, languid, slow-burning and expansive, whereas the second half is chaotic, relentless, thrilling and focused. Interestingly though, even when the first half unfolds at its pace, there is so much of the plot thickening that it seems relentless, and even with the enthralling second half, there is a poetry in the plot unravelling that it is beautiful. But every frame is delicious, every shot alluring, and every plot development tantalizing through the course of the film.
As much as I hate to use the cliché, the movie is quite the experience: Dibakar Banerjee has invited you to the theaters for a scrumptious feast but it is up to you to eat in tandem with the pace of the film, else you may be too full for desserts or stay hungry because you were too spoiled for choice. I suppose – and I can only guess here – that’s the reason why some people remained far from appetized, because this is a film that demands a certain level of engagement, commitment and attention from the viewer, and it then proceeds to reward you wholeheartedly for it.
Personally, I loved everything about DBB; from the subtlety of Sushant Singh Rajput (a class act) to the flamboyance of Neeraj Kabi (possibly the greatest find of the last 5 years) to the awesomeness of Anand Tiwari (who I absolutely love watching on screen – although I’m biased because he’s a friend). I loved the entire supporting cast, from Meiyang Chang to Divya Menon to even Swastika Mukherjee, I loved Banerjee’s quirky humour (the Maggi Tomato Ketchup ode made me laugh out so loud that I could feel the piercing gazes of the people sitting behind me in the theater), I LOVED Vandana Kataria’s production design, Nikos Andritsakis outstanding camerawork, Sneha Khandwalkar’s fabulous background song and the INSANE indie music and even the end credits sequence that a lot of people found off. Simply told, my mind was blown by the badassery of the film, and I was stumped that a film so international in design, vibe and execution could come from an Indian director!
*spoiler* Yes, if anything, I did miss some scenes of the impending Japanese invasion at the end, I do believe the climax was a little stretched and if intercut with scenes of an advancing Japanese army, would have become bigger in scope and nail-biting in tension, but considering this is (and should be) the first part of a franchise, I am not one to nitpick.
When you think of it, it’s not at all strange that I remember how every Dibakar Banerjee movie feels. This is a man who has singlehandedly raised the bar for himself and his contemporaries with every movie, but with Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!, Banerjee has raised the bar for Indian cinema as well.
NOTE (Not related to the movie): I know that given my new job at YRF, everything I say about any movie from now will possibly be looked at with the lens of where I work, and it may seem shady that I have written such a gushing piece on a film produced by YRF, but those who know me, know well that I’m a film fanatic first and anything else after. And for those who don’t: I graduated as a computer engineer, started my career at HT as a journalist, dabbled in digital at Viacom18 and then made shows for MTV, but the one thing that’s remained constant in my life is my complete and utter love for the visual medium of cinema and television, and no matter where I work or what I do, I will continue reacting to every movie and TV show I see from the heart, than from a calculative mind. Koi doubt mat rakhna apne dil mein, filmbuff hoon mein Mumbai ka! 🙂
It’s already April and 2015 and I’ve sampled or seen 40 TV series through the first three months of this year – and this may not even be the full scope of good TV available out there. It’s been a great year so far in TV, with many new streaming players getting into the television game and network TV upping its game to meet this new threat. Of course the breakout sensation of the year has been Empire – a show unlike anything else on network or cable, a ratings giant as well as a terribly addictive reinterpretation of a family soap opera. The must watch show of the year, undoubtedly. But there’s been other terrific entertainment as well, and here’s a list of all of them:
NEW SHOWS These are shows I’ve been watching week-on-week or have binged watched entirely. Ranked in order of awesomeness.
1. The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (HBO): The could easily be this year’s The Serial (if you haven’t heart it yet, HEAR IT NOW) in terms of pop cultural impact. A brilliant, creepy, bizarre, f–ed up non-fiction documentary centered on real life multi-millionaire weirdo Robert Durst and his alleged murderous ways. The climax of the documentary is *the* pop culture moment of the year.
2. Better Call Saul (AMC): I’ll be honest and say that I don’t remember the first season of Breaking Bad but I doubt it could’ve toppped Better Call Saul. It may be because we are already familiar (and love) the characters of Saul Goodman and Mike Ehrmantraut or it could be because Vince Gilligan is the greatest TV creator of our times, but Better Call Saul is superlative television.
3. Marco Polo (Netflix): I didn’t make time to watch Marco Polo because of the mixed reviews but when I watched episode one out of curiosity this year, I was bowled over and how! Marco Polo is one of the most vivid, visually arresting, epic shows of our times, rivaling Game of Thrones in scope and spirit both – and far grander than its first season was. The Chinese setting and heart make it a world like no other. Don’t miss this!
4. Empire (Fox): The network TV phenomenon of the year, Empire is a must-watch purely on the strength of the names alone – Creator Lee Daniels, actors Taraji P Henson, Terrence Howard, Gabie Sidibe starring. But watch one episode and you realize that this show is a network television achievement. A show about the hip hop world as seen from the within a dysfunctional, f–ed up family? There’s more plot in every episode in this show than there’s in a season of Mad Men!
5. The Last Man on Earth: The freshest, most unique, most fun comedy in YEARS. Created by Will Forte, and produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (of Jump Street and Lego movie fame), this comedy about what the man, who is the last man on earth… until he’s not, is laugh out loud all the way through. An ingenious premise and perfect execution.
6. Fortitude (Sky Atlantic): Brit TV is awesome, as I have documented through the last few years. But what I love about it is that it’s also bloody innovative. Fortitude is the perfect example. A show that starts off as a Scandinavian kind-of murder mystery unravels into fantasy into sci-fi into just a fascinating and completely unique genre in itself. And so much gore!
7. Togetherness (HBO): It was a matter of time before the Duplass Brothers came down to television but I didn’t expect their show to be so much fun! Togetherness is quirky, endearing, sweet and hilarious. The cast is fabulous with Mark Duplass, Amanda Peet, Melanie Lynskey and the breakout Steve Zissis.
8. Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon): Another super quirky show, created by another indie genius duo Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola. A show about the mad world of the NY philharmonic orchestra, with a cast that is led by Gael Garcia Bernal and Malcolm McDonald, this is a fun binge-watch.
9. The Slap (NBC): How is this show on network TV? With a cast SO epic (Peter Sarsgaard, Brian Cox, Zachary Quinto, Uma Thurman, Thandie Newton, Marin Ireland, Thamos Sadoski and Melissa George *phew*) and some pure, strong, Mad Men-ish drama, this should’ve been on cable, where it would have been respected far more.
10. Bosch (Amazon): Though not at all an original premise – a cop with issues solving a case where a lot is at stake (obviously), Bosch takes the slow-burning, gritty approach to all this and with its LA setting and noir-ish vibe and of course, Titus Welliver as its lead, it turns out to be a pretty above average show.
11. American Crime (ABC): This show comes closest to what a good multi-narrative cable show about crime and race (a la Crash) would look like if there was no cable! Created by John Ridley (of 12 Years a Slave fame), a solid, complex watch with some very cinematic direction.
12. Babylon (Channel 4): Co-created by Danny Boyle, and with a star cast led by the ever-dependable James Nesbitt and the awesome Brit Marling (why isn’t she a STAR yet?), this drama which looks at the London police from a PR perspective (yes!) should’ve been better than it is, but even with its flaws, it’s still a fairly decent watch.
13. Dig (USA): Set in Israel, created by the creator of the Israeli series than inspired Homeland, starring Jason Isaacs, Anne Heche and Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under!), this show about a conspiracy related to the history of Jerusalem, will probably be higher in my list once the 10 episodes are through. An interesting watch nevertheless.
RETURNING SHOWS These are shows that have had at least half a season, and that I’ve again watched week-on-week or binge-watched entirely. Ranked in order of how fantastic this season is.
The Americans (FX): My favourite show on television for the last couple of years. The best show on television for the last couple of years. Hasn’t once failed to be brilliant so far. Watch it.
The Wrong Mans (BBC Two): The second (and possibly concluding) season of action comedy mini series is HILARIOUS. More action, more comedy, more fun! Must watch.
About a Boy (NBC): My favourite comedy on TV since last year, About a Boy is possibly cancelled because the world is not fair and people are stupid, but that shouldn’t stop you from catching up on this. The most rewarding comedy if you have a heart.
Episodes (Showtime): After deteriorating over the last couple of seasons in spite of having possibly the funniest first season of a new comedy in years, Episodes became entertaining again this year, and how! Matt Le Blanc FTW!
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO): If you aren’t watching this show, you are robbing your life of the best 30 minutes you can do each week sitting on your ass. WATCH THIS NOW.
Broadchurch (ITV): Brit show Broadchurch shows you how to do a follow-up season of a hit crime drama so expertly that you are watching the same show you’ve seen and also a new one you haven’t.
Suits (USA): I LOVE how Suits elevates a supporting character in *every* season and dedicates the entire season to showcase their skill. This season it was the turn of Donna (Sarah Rafferty) to get her moment to shine, and shine she did. Super enteraining!
The Flash (CW): The only CW show I watch, and for good reason – this is the only CW show (I believe, apart from Jane the Virgin of course) where the focus has been on plot and acting and not (just) good looking young people. The only superhero show on TV that’s worth watching.
Elementary (CBS): Elementary has generally been in the top 7-8 of any returning show list I make, but this season, the quality dipped ever so slightly, not because of the human part of the series, which is as strong as ever, but because of the cases, which were underwhelming. Still one of my favourite shows on TV.
The Good Wife (CBS): Another show that dipped in quality this season, The Good Wife is usually among the top 3 network shows I watch. Still remains must-watch TV more than anything else on network TV, but I’m hoping the quality picks up post the new Alicia storyline.
House of Cards (Netflix): House of Cards took an entirely different direction this season, giving the series an emotional, human underlay, and I absolutely enjoyed it. A lot of people didn’t, but that’s their problem. Better than season 2, I thought. Can’t wait for Season 4.
Girls (HBO): For the last couple of seasons, I’ve kept wondering to myself why I watch Girls. I justify it as Adam Driver is funny, Allison Williams is pretty, the guest turns are great, I love New York, but usually this show has been my guilt-watch shame to bear. This season, however, Girls got less whiny, more story-driven and good fun in general.
Vice (HBO): The show that week-on-week makes me feel like I’m more intelligent than I was the week before, Vice is must-watch TV.
New Girl (FOX): New Girl’s entertaining as always and it has its ups and downs in quality, but this season had some jarring edit/direction issues, which threw me off. One new thing that happened this season though was that Lamorne Morris has suddenly become one of my favourite characters of the show. He’s SO funny!
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (ABC): I watch this show only because Marvel, and since it’s always middling, but not entirely horrible, I’ll keep watching it only because Marvel.
NEW SHOW PILOTS Shows that I have only seen pilots of, some of which I fully intend to see and some that I’ll pass on.
1. Bloodline (Netflix): It’s a Netflix show, it stars Kyle Chandler, Linda Cardellini (Freaks & Geeks) and Ben Medelsohn (every gritty crime flick over the last 3 years). Can’t wait to binge watch.
2. The Man in the High Castle (Amazon): An Amazon pilot based on a book that reimagined what the world of today would look like had the Nazis won. Super pilot, can’t wait for the series to come out (possibly next year).
3. Agent Carter (ABC): The pilot had more sass than I have seen in all TV shows with female protagonists combined. Looks like this would definitely be better than the Gothams and Agents of SHIELDS of the world, so looking forward to binge-ing on this.
4. Fresh off the Boat (ABC): Hilarious pilot. Laugh out loud. Will binge watch this as soon as I get the chance. Should be must-watch TV undoubtedly. (Also, it stars the dude who played Kim Jong Un in The Interview!)
5. Jane the Virgin (CW): What a fabulous pilot, with the most perfect and assured screenplay and direction, stuff you don’t usually see in pilots. This is couples TV, so will watch with wife whenever we both are free.
6. Battle Creek (CBS): Co-created by two of the greatest TV creators in America, Vince Gilligan and David Shore, I was a little let down by the pilot, even though it was much fun. Will still watch the entire series out of respect.
7. Sin City Saints (Yahoo): Fun pilot and it stars two great actors – Malin Akerman, who’s so funny and hot!, and Andrew Santino, who was fabulous in the underrated Mixology. Will definitely watch this.
8. The Librarians (TNT): I want to watch it because it stars Noah Wyle (of Pirates of Silicon Valley fame) and has a very National Treasure vibe to it, but this is just one of those shows that you won’t miss not watching. Still will try to give it a watch.
9. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix): Fun enough pilot, but I’m not quite certain right now if I’ll watch this fully. I want to because it’s created by Tina Fey and it’s a Netflix show but it wasn’t a must-watch to me after the pilot.
10. Man Seeking Woman (FXX): One of the most unique and original comedy pilots in years. I want to watch it completely but the unique also borders on strange, so I’m a bit cautious.
11. iZombie (CW): Fairly decent pilot, and it stars a new Indian actor (Rahul Kohli) as one of the main characters, and it’s about a zombie girl, yet there’s something very teenage about this. So I’ll probably watch it if I hear critics constantly praising this.
12. The Late Late Show with James Corden (CBS): Pretty decent pilot but I don’t generally watch Late Night shows regularly, so will probably catch some of it on YouTube every once a while.