Tag Archives: Film

Tom and Jerry Incorporates Indian Culture But Does It Do It Well?

Recently Tom and Jerry: The Movie was released in theaters and HBO!

In this movie, Hollywood gets Bollywood glam! The beloved co-stars of Tom and Jerry attend an Indian wedding and wear Sabyasachi and Anushree Reddy couture.  

A UK-based fashion house, Aashni + Co assisted Warner Bros. crew in sourcing bespoke costumes at an Indian wedding extravaganza. Each outfit was beautifully designed, and had a light, airy feel to it – the color palette had hints of peonies, lavender, and rose bowers.

Aashni + Co Co-Founder, Aashni Anshul Doshi.

Aashni + Co Co-Founder, Aashni Anshul Doshi told India Currents that she borrows inspiration from what she sees around her – from the incredible to the little mundane things. She said, “Even a short but meaningful current affairs conversation gets me going. Believing in the greatness of any idea can be a real inspiration for me.” 

The surreal juxtaposition of Bollywood in a cartoon movie accompanied by unexpected pop-ups of elephants, peacocks, and tigers in the grand ballroom did not compete with the slippery antics of Tom and Jerry. The effect was reminiscent of Aladdin’s entry into Jasmine’s palace! 

Aashni comments, “Being part of Hollywood gave me an opportunity to up the ante. Having dressed up Indian brides, grooms, and families from across the globe, we went with our instincts about grand Indian weddings to curate every look.” And it worked!

I have not shopped at Aashni +Co but I love their glossy website that offers an exclusive shopping experience. They were approached by Tom and Jerry stylists in the summer of 2019.

“The bridal ensembles had to be elegant, rich, and traditional. We worked around this pitch and shortlisted suitable outfits to present for selections. It was great that where typically across the globe, an Indian bride is usually dressed in red, the choice to go with ivory with understated elegance was zeroed in on.”

Choosing something so unconventional and expensive, I wonder about the process and challenge of acclimatizing Hollywood stars and their audience to Indian attire and cultural norms. When India Currents’ asked Aashni + Co to comment on this, we did not receive a response. 

In old Bollywood films, the bride was always dressed in a classic red saree and heavy gold jewelry. In my day, bridal attire was sourced from popular saree stores that carried few versions of bridalwear. Simple and elegant, a look recreated in Mira Nair’s rendition of A Suitable Boy. My mother stitched outfits for us in taffeta, satin, and silk with handspun gold lace. She did not consult a design book. The ideas stemmed from her imagination. My wedding saree was a shimmering red-gold tissue trimmed in broad gold brocade.

In India, people always asked me, where I bought my clothes? My elegant mother was an understated designer! Now, when I pick up a chic garment from an Avante Garde boutique-like Aashni + Co. that reminds me of my mother’s, it always has a $$$$ price tag.

In the last ten years, there has been an explosion of bridal couture in India! Indian diaspora is hypnotized by the glitz and glamor – each outfit is more ornate and ostentatious. Tom and Jerry and other films like it can perpetuate global misconceptions about Indian wedding culture. 

My other issue was that while the human actors wore their glad rags to the hilt, they seemed a bit confused about their own spatial and dialogue relationships with the cartoon protagonist.

If the screenplay and direction were intended to draw parallels between the lives of Kayla (Chloe Grace Moretz) and the cat and mouse duo, it did not. The underhanded gesture at the outset employed by Kayla to nab a position at the prestigious establishment conjured up the gestalt of Jerry but then it frittered away. Ben( Colin Jost) and Preeta (Pallavi Sharda) as a tense interracial couple before their wedding gala did not capitalize on the conflict. My heart warmed up to Michael Pena because he has a great sense of timing but even his humor was stymied. My eyes scanned to glean memorable unexpected moments in the fight sequences between the sworn adversaries, but mayhem and destruction failed to impress! 

There was nothing to make me scream in sheer delight. It was nothing like the ”zombie-high” I felt by watching reruns of short cartoon films created in 1940 by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. This live-action/computer-animated slapstick comedy would not be my “go-to” movie when I want to share the family couch for some popcorn and laughter.


Monita Soni, MD has one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India, and a heart steeped in humanity. Monita has published many poems, essays, and two books, My Light Reflections and Flow Through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.


 

Drishyam 2: George Kutty and Family Are Back

(Featured Image: Actor, Mohanlal with Director, Jeethu Joseph)

George Kutty with his wife Rani and their two daughters, Anju and Anumol, bring in a new saga of fortitude as the sequel of the critically acclaimed Malayalam film, Drishyam started streaming worldwide on Amazon Prime Video from February 19th. 

Remade in other south Indian languages as well in Hindi, Sinhalese, and Chinese, Drishyam was a game-changer not only for Director, Jeethu Joseph, but for the entire cast led by Mohanlal and Meena and supported by Ansiba Hassan, Esther Anil, Asha Sharath, Kalabhavan Shajohn, and Siddique. Jeethu Joseph had no inkling while scripting Drishyam – the first part – that it would lead him to a sequel. Post Drishyam’s release and with people discussing and creating their stories for a sequel, the production house asked him to consider its sequel in 2015. Although Drishyam was a closed plot, Joseph decided to explore it.  

“It took me four years to write Drishyam 2,” Joseph tells me over phone from Kerala. 

Drishyam 2 trailer hints at a police investigation probing again into the case of the missing Varun. The question in our minds is – How will George Kutty protect his family again?

“My challenge lay in the characterization and to ensure a continuity of the story. I met Lal ettan (elder brother) with my final draft. He wanted some clarifications. We ironed out few issues. The idea was to write a good story and to make good cinema. We were not thinking of its business prospects.”

Drishyam 2 examines how life has changed for George Kutty and his family over the past ten years. How did the trauma of Drishyam affect them? How does society view them? 

Drishyam 2 was shot last year during Covid times with social restrictions in place. New characters have been introduced in the sequel. The multi-faceted actor-director Murali Gopi is playing a police officer.

Is it ok for George Kutty to continue lying to protect his family?

Joseph tells me, “We can talk about that after the release of Drishyam 2.”

Meet George Kutty’s Daughters

Actress, Ansiba Hassan

Ansiba Hassan: “I am excited since I have not been in cinema for the last four years. Drishyam 2 is a comeback for me. In the first part, Esther (who played Anumol) had a significant role and the story was pivoted around Anju. Seven years have elapsed since then. Today, Anju is in college. She is a mature young woman but she is torn by guilt for having committed a crime. She always dreads being caught and is battling depression. She avoids people and prefers to be with her family at home. Much as she wishes to laugh and enjoy life, the ghosts of the past restrain her from living in the present. She is unable to laugh to her heart’s content and is very sad. My challenge lay in bringing to the fore Anju’s remorse while appearing happy on the outside.” 

Actress, Esther Anil

Esther Anil: “Getting back to the sets was a good feeling after being indoors during the lockdown. It gave us hope in the industry. Anumol in Drishyam 2 is studying in class 12. And, this teenager is often in an argument with her mother. In part one, Anumol had much significance but not so in the sequel. Drishyam 2 is about the family and their bonding. Anju was affected by a situation in Drishyam and the family is living with past trauma. My role cannot be compared with that of Ansiba chechi (elder sister). I have as much space as in part one. In the sequel, the emotional connection of the family has been retained well.” 


Mythily Ramachandran is an independent journalist based in Chennai, India with over twenty years of reporting experience. Besides contributing to leading Indian and international publications including Gulf News (UAE), South China Morning Post, and Another Gaze (UK), she is a Rotten Tomatoes critic. Check out her blog – http://romancing-cinema.blogspot.com/ 

Paava Kadhaigal: Of Love, Lies, and Betrayal

Even if the four-part anthology, Paava Kadhaigal, was made up of just one segment, Sudha Kongara’s Thangam may just have been sufficient to capture its all-encompassing theme. There’s the unlikely love triangle involving a sibling and a best friend, there’s unrequited love that forms the emotional core of the film, and the forbidden inter-faith relationship between its two principal characters. But despite having a heavy agenda, Kongara doesn’t appear to bite off more than she can chew. The movie effortlessly chugs along like a Malgudi Days’ tale, and tugs soulfully at our heartstrings. Along the way, the movie brings to the fore a heartbreaking reality that while families may eventually reconcile and accept their children, when it comes to letting a human being choose their gender, the world remains a massively one-sided place

The Confirmation Bias

If Kongara’s film touched multiple themes, Vignesh Shivan’s segment Love Panna Utranum handles several genres in one slick segment. There’s horror when we see a loved one electrocuted, drama when we witness the evil machinations of a leader and his crooks, and finally, delightful humor when the man’s lieutenant struggles to say the L-word (I fell off my chair watching him mouth ESPN repeatedly; Jaffer Sadiq as Narikutty is fantastic). But while Shivan deserves credit for his creativity, I found the transition from mournful moments to comic situations a little too jarring for a short film. Shivan redeems himself with a clever trick in the end though when Penelope (Kalki Koechlin) calls and talks to Narikutty looking at her phone while driving. I wondered if she was staring at the camera and calling the bluff on the viewers and their confirmation bias; early on in the movie, we see two characters lying on a bed, and begin to assume the nature of their relationship. “How dare we?” Shivan appears to ask. I’d like to think that the friendly cuss word is for Narikutty though.

The Judgment

If there’s one thing about Gautham Menon and his movies, it is that he makes them with his heart. While they are rough at the edges, one cannot help but note they have a soul. Ditto with Vaanmagal, a segment that most viewers would relate to considering today’s life and times. It deals with a middle-class family’s worst nightmare, one in which a girl whose hormones haven’t kicked in yet is mercilessly attacked. While most filmmakers would deal with the event itself and the trauma that the victim would undergo, Menon chooses to focus on the reaction of her family instead. There’s the father (Menon himself), who personifies guilt and cannot bring himself to look at his daughter in the eye, hanging his head in shame as a man. There’s the mother (Simran) whose character is used as a pivot to deliver a message to all parents (the use of the shot atop a hill may be manipulative in the trailer, but bears significance in the movie). And the brother, the instrument responsible for restoring parity in the film’s most defining moment. No lives are lost, and yet, Menon’s segment remains the only one in the film that delivers closure for a victim.

The Great Betrayal

The final act of Paava Kathaigal fittingly falls in the hands of Vetrimaaran, one of the finest filmmakers in India today. Narrating the story of a father-daughter relationship gone sour in Oor Iravu, Vetrimaran cuts back and forth between the past and the present, culminating in the baby shower that the father (the seasoned Prakash Raj) arranges for his daughter (a fine Sai Pallavi) as a way to make amends. Vetrimaaran shows us his finesse in dramatic thrillers, by bringing every frame to life and letting every scene breathe. Take, for instance, the scene when a character heads from the courtyard to the kitchen for a jug of water. The camera follows them and stops just at the doorstep. The character takes a fractional moment longer to return, in what seems like an eternity to us. It’s a bone-chilling finish, one that involves a murder without a weapon, but punctuated by the cries of two women locked in different rooms. Cries that echo in our ears long after the credits roll by. Chilling indeed…take a bow, Scorsese of Tamil Cinema!


Anuj Chakrapani loves cinema and believes movies, like other forms of art, are open to interpretation. And when you begin to interpret, you realize that the parts are more than the sum. Adopting a deconstructionist approach, he tries not to rate movies as “good” or “bad”, instead choosing to capture what he carries away from watching them. Anuj lives in the SF Bay Area and works for a large technology company.

Does the Great Indian Kitchen Lead to the Great Indian Marriage?

While I ran about in the sprawling open courtyard of my mother’s house in a somewhat sleepy little village in rural North Bengal, I remember my granny sitting on a low stool cooking in the dimly-lit kitchen. It was already dusk and a few hours later, a tasty dinner was served. My parents had gone down to spend a few days during the Durga Puja holidays. 

After my mother’s family moved to Kolkata, I often used to visit my maternal uncle’s place. Here, the kitchen was big and bright, but granny still continued to cook. Her specialty was a chicken dish which no one ever in my family has been able to replicate. Maybe it was the spices she used or her loving and caring hands that were behind the deliciousness. 

Granny is now no more. She passed away a few years ago, but I still remember her chicken curry. Today, after watching The Great Indian Kitchen, a Malayalam movie earning rave reviews from critics, I realize how I never knew my real granny: what was she like, her likes, dislikes, desires, and aspirations. Maybe none of these things ever mattered to anyone in the family.

And this is what makes the ‘great Indian marriage’ such a fearsome thing to enter into, especially in an arranged marriage set up, where women are mostly expected to cook and clean and act submissive. Exceptions are always there. In my family, I have seen my father making tea, cooking rice, and even doing household work. An aunt of mine who lives in Delhi was horrified when she learned that I had praised her husband’s culinary skills in front of my other relatives. It was a most shameful thing for her and she reproached me for making the hush, hush fact “public”. 

I can understand her consternation, the great dilemma she felt because women are expected to cook for their families. Little do they realize that in doing so, they become fettered and chained forever. 

A scene from the Great Indian Kitchen.

I am no great cook, but I can make basic meals for myself and during the lockdown prepared a few dishes, among them egg biryani twice. My friend Neeraj, who is a great cook himself, keeps on sending me recipes and colorful snaps from his kitchen from time to time. He once taught me to cook the perfect rice over the phone. 

Cooking is art no doubt, but as the movie shows it can become a tedious routine. The movie’s female protagonist, Nimisha Sajayan who plays the docile wife and later leaves her husband to follow her dreams, is expected to cook rice on the firewood, besides making a variety of tasty dishes and serving food to the men. In almost all the scenes featuring her, she is shown cutting, chopping, and dicing vegetables, besides making hurried meals, attending to the faulty kitchen sink in need of urgent repair, cleaning up the kitchen, dusting, and washing her hands frequently.

I entered into a brief marriage only to regret it to this day. My in-laws expected me to shift to a small town where they lived, take up a part-time job or better still become a housewife and cook for the family whereas I wanted to pursue my dreams. So, I packed my bags and came to Delhi when I was offered a transfer. 

Cooking is not an issue. I prepare food for myself every day and quite enjoy doing it. But slaving away in the kitchen is quite another matter. In the movie, the men are shown relaxing, doing yoga, and reading newspapers whereas the women are portrayed tirelessly working in the kitchen. The most evocative scene in the film is the one where the women eat food at the table made dirty by the men with spilled over and chewed food. When the wife confronts her husband about it later at a restaurant over his bad table manners at home, he gets angry.

For most women, cooking and doing housework is a routine and they are not supposed to complain. It is for us to decide whether to follow our dreams or please the men. If you want the first, just let it go like I did eight years ago, or else give up on your desires and aspirations. 

My next-door neighbor back in Kolkata could not fry papad properly and they always used to get burnt. She was always the subject of criticism in the neighborhood, but nobody praised her ever for being an excellent teacher, her love for Bengali literature, and intelligent conversations. 

Women in our kitchens have become such a regular fixture that we never pause and question their narrowed existence. All my childhood memories are centered around the great Indian kitchen: my granny on her low stool, my father’s mother stirring the milk tea, my aunt chopping vegetables, my mother making sweet delicacies in winter, the neighborhood aunty (she was called Ronny’s mom after her son’s name as if her identity never mattered) making parathas so that we children could enjoy it on Sundays.

Welcome to the great Indian kitchen. If you don’t like it, you are free to leave like Nimisha’s character or me. After so many years, a remark by my erstwhile husband came back to me. He had remarked once, “You never served me tea (in Bengali of course).” But you see I was born to rule and not to serve. I served him coffee, of course, but he conveniently forgot all about it. But what I remember is that he never made either tea or coffee for me and that’s what made all the difference.


Deepanwita Gita Niyogi is a Delhi-based freelance journalist.

Slick Malayalam Language Thriller “C U Soon”

The real deal

Having read the disclaimer about COVID-compliant measures during the making of C U Soon and with all the social media and dating app screen grabs at the start, I wondered if this was just a creative attempt at making a movie during these unprecedented times. But as it progressed, I found myself captivated by the movie and its memorable characters, told to us through the lens of computers and smartphones. While conventional cinema titillates us with manipulative slow-motion shots, C U Soon does it with long takes captured in real-time on static camera angles. When a gut-wrenching backstory needs to be told, conventional cinema would do it with flash cuts. Here, you see events organically unfold in front of our eyes through audio-video recordings on a social networking site. A few more movies like this one and I’ll find myself alien to big-screen cinema.

All things to all people

Steeped in realism, the movie itself works at many levels and has something for everyone.

For the drama purists, the movie is not just about a relationship between two youngsters who meet on a dating app, but also about a poignant one between a mother and a daughter that surfaces towards the end. Of course, there’s also the “supposed” father-daughter relationship that leads to the shocking twist in the end.

For the connoisseurs of Independent cinema, the movie resembles flawed everyday characters we encounter in our real lives. These characters talk over each other and argue endlessly; they type texts in their native tongue, in shorthand, and with typos. For the activists in us, the movie shines a light on the organized multi-national crimes that happen even in today’s day and age. C U Soon also carries a subtle message about class issues, what a cruel thing financial debt is, and how it can wreck innocent lives.

And for the thrill-seekers, this is a nail-biter from start to finish. When a soulmate doesn’t answer the phone, we start getting worried. When a character vanishes from the scene, our minds wander in a million directions searching for clues. And heck, never have I found myself fibrillating so much, glancing at the bouncing dots on a chat screen!

Fastest finger first

The movie is also a tribute to the gadget-happy generations of today. While it was heartening to see a movie centered around social media using emojis and emoticons so sparingly, its characters use creative ways to communicate instead. I was impressed by how often they use voice notes to reply. I guess it makes sense; it’s easier to hit a button once and speak your heart out rather than type scores of characters. The characters also never forget that their phones have a camera. A software engineer asks his mate if she is still at work, who responds with a stylish selfie.

The movie also tells us about the fast lives we live in, and how quick our reaction times need to be. Between watching a character speaking with a stranger on the phone about an invoice that needs correction, and the simultaneous texts to his beloved, alongside the confusing backdrop of the desktop screen, I was struggling to keep pace myself. Spare a thought for the man in the center of this 100-meter dash called life!

The missed experiment

It would be boorish to complement C U Soon merely as a brave experiment. It has the potential to redefine how Indian cinema is made, watched, and perceived. It’s also a universal example of how an effort with the highest level of conviction can find its way to fruition regardless of the circumstances. However, I wondered if director Mahesh Narayanan may have missed a trick with the use of the background score. Make no mistake, the background music supplements the scenes very well, but the movie may have been even more ambitious if he had eschewed the temptation to use background music. It may have just added an extra layer of authenticity to the experience. Maybe Mahesh can go the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi-way next time and go sans a background score. Until such time, we’ll savor this gem.


Anuj Chakrapani loves cinema and believes movies, like other forms of art, is open to interpretation. And when you begin to interpret, you realize that the parts are more than the sum. Adopting a deconstructionist approach, he tries not to rate movies as “good” or “bad”, instead choosing to capture what he carries away from watching them. Anuj lives in the SF Bay Area and works for a large technology company.

Female Feticide in America?

Female feticide is common in India and surrounding countries. I was very surprised when a gynecologist in California told me that it is practiced by South Asians in many parts of America as well. She mentioned that when an Indian patient finds out that the fetus is female, the likelihood of aborting the pregnancy is very high, even higher if this is a woman’s second or third female child. 

I spoke to several other gynecologists who relayed similar experiences.

One gynecologist told me that he offered sex selection through IVF as an alternative to abortion but the patient’s family was not willing to bear the expense, even if they could afford it. They did not care that the wife/daughter-in-law was having to go through several traumatizing abortions. Another ObGyn said that she was afraid to do an ultrasound on her patient for fear that it would be a female fetus. She said that sometimes she would make an excuse or stall until the next check-up.

The reasons given by patients and families for their preference of a male child are the same everywhere – the boy will continue the family name, he will take care of the family business and his aging parents, and most importantly, a man is not masculine enough if he cannot father a son.

As a writer and storyteller, I knew I had to tell this story. How we conveniently do certain things under the guise of culture, tradition, and customs. Normalization and rationalization of unreasonable behavior are often justified as tradition. 

As a woman and a mother of daughters, I believe that women should have the power to make decisions about their own bodies and to speak up for themselves. I wrote and produced the short film ‘Unborn’ to convey this message to all women of the world. If one woman, one husband, one family sees this film and a female child is given a chance to survive and ultimately thrive, then this film has done its job!

Directed by Jaswant Shrestha, the film stars the talented actors Ayushi Chhabra, Sumeet Dang, and Rashmi Rustagi. It has won several awards at many film festivals including Best Short Film, Best Actress for Ayushi Chhabra, and Best Supporting Actress for Rashmi Rustagi. 

Unborn is now streaming on Amazon Prime.


Rashmi Rustagi is an actor, writer, producer, and food blogger. She has pursued acting from a very young age, starting out as a radio actor in All India Radio plays in Lucknow, India. She performed in several theatre productions while living in the Bay Area and is currently a film and television actor in Hollywood. 

Tamil Film Exclusively at the San Jose Drive-In

West Wind Drive-In Theatre in San Jose will offer a special limited run three-day run of the long-awaited and critically acclaimed film Master, a Tamil-language action-thriller film directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj.

“We are thrilled to have the exclusive Northern California screening of Master,” explains Nancy Crane, Vice President of Operations for West Wind Drive-Ins and Public Markets. We are lucky to be selected to show this lavish action-thriller. The cinematography is superb and the storyline is exceptional.”   

The film follows a charming young professor (Vijay), who is addicted to alcohol, is looked down on by his colleagues but is adored by his students. He is sent for a 3-month teaching stint to an Observation Home for Juvenile delinquents. He realizes the reformatory is controlled by Vijay Sethupathi, who uses the children in this Home for his unscrupulous, nefarious activities. The story is about the clash between them and if truth triumphs!

The film starts Friday, January 15 for a very limited three-day run.  


 

Minorities Embrace an Invigorating Cinematic Presence: Rohan Gurbaxani

New York City-based actor who was born in San Jose and grew up in Bengaluru, Rohan Gurbaxani, has been making remarkable but quiet moves in Hollywood over the past few years. Within a year of graduating from New York University, he bagged over seven feature films in 2019, including four acting roles in the following movies: action-comedy Chick Fight, action-thriller Knuckledust, and action thriller Red 4

Gurbaxani in the movie, Chick Fight.

Rohan has also worked with New York City-based indie film production company, Yale Productions, as an assistant on their films: I Used to Go Here starring Gillian Jacobs and Becky starring Kevin James which later went to feature in the SXSW Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival, respectively. With no lineage in the entertainment business, he charted his professional journey on his own merit.

In this exclusive interview, he talks among other things about his experience of being an Indian actor in Hollywood, his all-time favorite films, and his plans for Bollywood.

How did you decide to become an actor? 

I definitely did not have an epiphany moment. For me, acting is a cultivated passion, a gradual realization. From the very beginning, I used to perform as a dancer—from Shiamak Davar classes to participating in almost every dance competition in school. Looking back, I unknowingly always had a knack for performance but no inclination towards acting at all.

Fast forward to when I was a teenager and my mother randomly enrolled me at the Jagriti Theatre in Whitefield. I wouldn’t say that was the turning point, but it was perhaps when the seed was planted. It’s funny I had close to zero acting experience in school. Yet if you asked anyone from my adolescent years about what I’d end up doing in life, they’d say, “Rohan? He wants to be an actor.” The irony is that none of them, my parents included, had ever seen me act! Somehow, my complete lack of experience never stopped me from defiantly saying, “I want to be an actor”, even though deep down I had no clue where to even begin…

Luckily, my first sign of validation came in big. I got accepted into arguably the best drama school in the world—Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. It was only then that I remember telling myself, “Alright maybe, just maybe… something can be done here.”

Did you have to face any challenges due to being an Indian actor in Hollywood?

Fortunately, no significant challenges. I still have a long journey ahead of me but in my opinion, how you carry yourself is important because it eventually reflects in your work and the opportunities you attract. Having said that, the West is gradually realizing that we as a minority embrace an invigorating cinematic presence. However, I do not think the inclusiveness is snowballing at a fast enough pace.

Tell our readers a little about your role in the recently released comedy film Chick Fight.

All I can say is that I play the character Kye, a college kid on spring break who ends up at Alec Baldwin’s bar. Anna (Malin Åkerman) happens to be there at the same time for other reasons, and a conflict ensues between the three of us. 

Behind the scenes with Gurbaxani in the film, Knuckledust.

Tell us more about your role in the latest films Knuckledust, Red 48, and Confession.

Knuckledust is an action-thriller starring Camille Rowe, Moe Dunford (TV show Vikings), Gethin Anthony (Game of Thrones), where I play a naive playboy whose wits get the better of him. I have two more films coming out in 2021, a mystery-thriller called Confession starring Golden Globe nominee Sarah Hay where I play a lawyer, and a cameo in another action-thriller called Red 48 starring Oscar nominee John Malkovich and Tyrese Gibson.  

Which has been your most memorable/rewarding project/role so far?

Although working with Alec Baldwin on Chick Fight was an unbelievable learning experience, I’d say playing Requin in Knuckledust was most rewarding, since there was more to play with and also because it was my very first role out of school.

Which are some of your all-time favorite films?

Into the Wild, The Shining, Lion, The Lunchbox, The Master, and many more. 

Who are some of the contemporaries who you look up to and whose work you admire?

Cillian Murphy, Shia LaBeouf, Ranbir Kapoor, and Jake Gyllenhaal are a few. Their work and perspective on life and the world around them resonate with me.

What are you working on next? What can fans expect from you?

Well, I am back on my home turf (Bengaluru) and just starting to tap into the Hindi film industry. I have some projects in the works, so stay tuned!


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. 

The First Indian Cinematic Comic Book Universe

The world cannot get enough of superheroes. Superheroes dominate the entertainment industry from comic books and graphic novels to films and streaming services. But there is also a groundswell from the international audience for inclusion and diversity.

Since 2013, Yali Dream Creations has been producing graphic novels revolving around Indian characters, Indian locales, and Indian issues. Key titles for Yali Dream Creations include graphic novels like The Caravan, The Village, and Rakshak: A Hero Among Us, all of which represent Indian culture.

Comic, The Caravan
Comic, The Caravan

Like so many creative intellectual properties, fans of these books want to see translations of these characters onto film. To fulfill this need, Asvin Srivatsangam, the company’s CEO and co-founder, recently announced the company’s expansion of Yali Dream Works. An offshoot of Yali Dream Creations, Yali Dream Works will handle adapting, producing, and distributing Yali Dream Creations’ various literary works into feature films and series for streaming service platforms.

US-based Asvin Srivatsangam has partnered with noted Bombay-based producer, Vivek Rangachari, to blend American Hollywood with Indian Bollywood to create stories that will appeal to Indian audiences and provide a window into Indian culture to a worldwide audience. Rangachari is an advocate for Indian studios generating their own superhero-style content for the Indian population. Rangachari connected with Srivatsangam after reading Yali Dream Creations’ graphic novels, seeing the potential for film adaptations.  

Rangachari elaborated in a virtual Comic-Con panel, “The genres and type of movies are very different from what we were doing in the conventional sense of making films. So, we thought that let’s spin it off in a different venture which concentrates on the superhero genre, horror, thriller, etc. because that’s a different space we’re looking at…That was the reason why we decided to spin it off into a different entity altogether to cater to a certain segment of the audience.”

The first graphic novel slated for feature film adaptation under Yali Dream Works is Rakshak: A Hero Among Us. The book’s titular character, Captain Aditya Shergill is a character who takes up a superhero identity to mete out justice as his city is infested with crime and government corruption. Shergill’s origin story involves a heinous crime that leads to the death of his sister and brother-in-law. To protect his orphaned niece, Shergill takes on the secret identity of Rakshak. Not gifted with superpowers, the vigilante depends on his brute strength, marine commando training, and firearms to dispense justice. More than taking a moral stand on vigilantism, author Shamik Dasgupta’s four-part story compels readers to think about how the world would react to a vigilante taking the law into his own hands.

Working on the film adaptation is acclaimed director Sanjay Gupta. Gupta is an excellent fit for the gritty, action-filled story, having directed action thrillers in the past like Zinda, Kaante, and Shootout at Lokhandwala. While the film was supposed to be released in 2021, the production has been delayed with the current global pandemic. In a recent interview, Gupta voiced his excitement for India’s first graphic novel to be made into a feature film saying, “Rakshak is an Aladdin’s cave of riches. Open a page, any page, and there’s such a wealth of visual material telling a gripping story.”  

Given Yali Dream Works’ mission statement to bring Indian heroes to the forefront, Rakshak was an obvious choice to receive a cinematic adaptation. The success of Marvel and DC films in India along with high viewership of comic-book shows proves that the Indian market is hungry for more superhero stories and would also diversify the market by introducing the wonders of India’s culture to a worldwide market.

Comic, The Village
Comic, The Village

Rakshak is not the only title currently being developed. The Village is an acclaimed graphic novel that is also being adapted for a feature film. It is set in a village in Tamil Nadu during a dystopian future where the nation has made great strides such as space exploration but archaic evils like a social caste system persist. The graphic novel has been optioned by a major streaming service platform. The overall intent of Yali Dream Works is to help develop Indian interest in local homegrown comics while influencing popular culture in India and throughout the world. 

Look out for Rakshak at a screening near you!


Asvin Srivatsangam lives in San Jose, California with his lovely wife and adorable daughter, and works as a visual designer for a startup. Asvin has been passionate about the comic book medium from his childhood, and he finally started his own comic book publishing house, Yali Dream Creations, in 2013. 

Bollywood and Beyond is a 3rd i Tradition

Never been to a film festival before? Due to the pandemic, they’re more accessible than ever, having pivoted to digital extravaganzas inviting people to “attend” who might not have had the chance otherwise. 

One of the premier festivals promoting diverse images of South Asians through the independent film is 3rd i’s 18th annual San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival: Bollywood and Beyond (SFISAFF), offered for free Oct 23-25, 2020, as a completely virtual experience.

Part of the appeal of a film festival is our surrender to the collective experience: we walk into the theatre, sit down with everyone else and watch a movie together. In the best version of that experience, the audience becomes a single organism, a coming together of people in the spirit of discovery, a connection we make with our fellow attendees. 

So, what will it mean for us to watch these independent films in the privacy of our homes, alone in our living rooms? Art. That is the reason we lend our attention to a film festival. Art gives comfort and solace, a reason to hope. In the end, art’s power is more important than where or how we see it.

India Currents writer Mona Shah in conversation with 3rd i’s Artistic Director Ivan Jaigirdar about how the festival has innovated to keep our attention rapt.

IC: What in your opinion is the silver lining to taking the festival virtual? 

Ivan Jaigirdar: 3rd i audiences are not just from the Bay Area or those who fly in, but it gives access to audiences anywhere in the world, reaching the Diaspora globally. Given Covid-19, we’re able to still hold the festival, celebrate South Asian cinema, and keep safe. Making the programs free this year allows greater access to new audiences. 

We get to interview filmmakers from abroad and reduce the carbon footprint since they are not flying in. With Zoom interviews for the Festival in their homes, it feels more accessible with the casual atmosphere.

IC: How important is the in-person experience? 

Ivan Jaigirdar: Celebrating diversity and community is the key to our Film Festival and there lies the importance of in-person experience. That’s to say, a lot of activity happens in terms of our awareness of each other and of “the other”—both within ourselves “the other,” and outside of ourselves when we experience a film together in person.  We get to dream together and have emotions about a film and then discuss it together.

IC: Do you see this as a shift, a portend of how things might change for film festivals in the future? 

Ivan Jaigirdar: As festivals are discovering the benefits of online programming, they may consider hybrid programming in the future, for example online and in theaters during a Festival, and developing 3-D virtual.

This year get thrilled by stumbling onto something new – a film, a filmmaker, a movement.

Here are a few of the notable selections from the festival to add to your watch-list.

Opening Night: 10/23 @ 7:30pm “Levity and Artivism with Fawzia Mirza” will have a post-screening live Q&A (discussing her work across theater, TV, and film, and her thoughts on feminist and queer politics in South Asia, specifically Pakistan.) with viewers submitting questions in an online chat after the screening.

The screening will be of her short films Queen Of My Dreams (2012), and I Know Her (2019) which recently made the rounds of the Cannes Film Festival. Free with registration.

Artist, SETI X

Closing Night:  10/25 @7pm Word to Your Motherland with artist SETI X will screen a short then do live performance before the LIVE Q&A  with viewers submitting questions in an online chat after it. Free with registration.

Movie: Road to Ladakh

A homage to one of the greats of Indian cinema, Irrfan Khan, Road To Ladakh. A sensual suspenseful love story revolving around an encounter between two strangers thrown together by chance into the magnificent wilderness of Ladakh. A post-screening discussion will follow with Oscar nominee, director Ashvin Kumar. Free with registration.

Movie: Lucky

Avie Luthra’s Lucky, a narrative based on a short of the same name, was nominated for an Oscar award in 2005. Delicately crafted, both in story and visual style, this beautiful, emotional tale explores the unusual alliance between an elderly Indian woman (with an irrational fear of Africans) and a South African orphan in post-Apartheid South Africa.  Luthra’s film will be followed by a discussion with the filmmaker about the South Asian community and its relationship to the Black Lives Matter movement. Free with registration.

Knock, Knock, Knock, a crossword puzzle master and a young student develop a “cat and mouse” relationship in an enigmatic and engrossing psychological thriller set against the stunning locales of the hill-station Darjeeling. A post-screening discussion will follow with director Sudhansu Saria. Free with registration.

More information about the festival is available on our website at: www.thirdi.org


Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter, Facebook for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news and magazines. 

Padmavyuha: A Film Questioning Blind Faith

(Featured Image: Director, Raj Krishna, and crew on the set of Padmavyuha) 

The dedicated and outspoken religious studies Professor Shaki Ramdas is sitting in his university office one evening when he receives a mysterious phone call –  an unidentified voice tells him that a prominent journalist has gone missing, an obscure religious symbol left at the scene of disappearance. His interest piqued, Professor Ramdas follows up with the Detective on the case, Mark King, who at first is skeptical of Professor Ramdas but grows to trust him and value his inputs.

A still from the film, Padmavyuha.

Professor Ramdas works with Detective King and the unidentified voice on the telephone to decipher a series of religious puzzles, slowly uncovering a growing conspiracy designed to silence non-believers. But as the Professor digs in deeper, he finds himself descending the dark staircase of his own fractured psyche, beginning to question his own views on religion. As he deciphers the final puzzle and discovers the true villain, he will find his religious worldviews transformed – discovering a shocking, newfound purpose. 

After watching Padmavyuha and exchanging correspondence with the Director, Raj Krishna, I began to understand the importance of this film and am glad that it premiered at the International Indian Film Festival in Toronto on August 9, 2020 to a wide audience.

The purpose of this film is threefold:

  1. To introduce the central tenet of Hinduism: The dual concept of Jivatman which goes through several cycles of birth and rebirth to ultimately merge into Parmatman or the Divine source. This can be accomplished through careful observation of actions that are subject to the law of Karma.
  2. To unravel several myths about the origin, history, and core issues of Hinduism.
  3. To question the caste system. When was the “caste system”, which is linked to violent oppression by Hindus, created?

I was born a Hindu and raised in a household where my father, a highly compassionate soul was agnostic for a long time, and my mother was a staunch devotee of Lord Hanuman.  I grew up with a rich tapestry of Hindu culture, mythology, prayers, hymns, and am deeply rooted in my faith. We were taught to notice the atman in every living being and practice ahimsa or nonviolence.

India is a secular state and it was prevalent in my formative years and I think to some extent it is still a common practice for Indians of all faiths to visit temples and other places of worship including churches, mosques, and gurudwaras without restrictions. But recently there had been a rise in right-wing nationalistic sentiment in the West and it has percolated also to our motherland.

Raj Krishna implores the audience to examine the core values of their own faith and try to understand that “ negative” sentiments about faiths are intentionally tagged to many religions just to incite fear among the general population and to prevent them from living in harmony. 

The Director addresses the confusion created all over the world about the “civilizations from the East or the Orient.”  Who were the original Indians?

In fact recently, when Senator Harris accepted the Vice Presidential nomination for the United States of America, I received phone calls from educated Americans friends debating about the origin of the Indian race! Who are the original Indians? Did they come from the Middle East? Who were the Aryans and why did they create an intentional hierarchy amongst their citizens: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras, and other miscellaneous outcastes?

But it is important to recognize whose prerogative is being used to theorize about other races.

I was lost in the shades of grey existing between the two versions of the truth, finding it more and more difficult to classify the current events as good or bad. The more I studied, the more shocked and confused I found myself on the core issues; is religion good? What is its true history? Who is right – the political activists protesting against the religious right, or the religious right themselves, who claim to have done far more in the name of equality than anyone else?,” interrogates Raj Krishna.

The film, Padmavyuha implores the audience to pay attention to the projected ambiguity about the Hindu faith and not fall in the trap created by right-wing nationalists. It behooves every practitioner to carefully examine the good and bad of their own religion before following anything blindly.

To learn more about what Padmavyuha means and to gain a glimpse into the history and mysterious annotations of ancient Indian civilization, watch the movie for yourself. I recommend it! 

Catch a viewing at these following local film festivals:

Silicon Valley Asian Pacific FilmFesthttps://svapfilmfest.eventive.org/films – October 2-10, 2020

Orlando Film Festivalhttps://orlandofilmfest.com/ – October 15-22, 2020

Indian Film Festival of Cincinnatihttps://iffcincy.eventive.org/films – Oct 15-Nov 1, 2020

Show Low – White Mountains Arizona Film Festivalhttps://filmfreeway.com/ShowLowFilmFestival – Oct 16-18, 2020

Oregon State International Film Festivalhttps://dasfilmfest.vhx.tv/products – October 19-25, 2020

Louisville’s International Festival of Filmhttps://louisvillefilmfestival.org/ – Nov 5-7, 2020


Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.

Dil Bechara: From Reel to Real

Sushant Singh Rajput’s posthumous film Dil Bechara recently released on Disney+ Hotstar. Clearly dedicated to him, the film begins with a smiling SSR playing the guitar while a quote of his flashes in the background: “Perhaps, the difference between what is miserable, and that, which is spectacular, lies in the leap of faith…#selfmusing.” Inspired by John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars, the film is set in Jamshedpur and its opening dialogues are what most bedtime stories start with: “Ëk tha raja, ek thi rani; dono mar gaye, khatam kahani.”   

Kizie Basu (Sanjana Sanghi) is a young girl suffering from thyroid cancer. An oxygen mask is attached to her person, which she carries with her at all times. Due to her disease, she has a largely boring life and feels like a reality TV show contestant who can be eliminated from the game of life anytime. She often attends funerals of strangers and sympathizes with their loss. More than anything else, she longs to be just like any other normal girl her age. 

Enter Manny (SSR), who she meets at a cancer counseling group. Though ill too, he is fun-loving and likes to sing, dance and act. SSR is sadly so energetic and full of life in this—his last film—with expressions that remind one of Shah Rukh Khan from the DDLJ days. He also spins magic with some promising dance moves in the film’s dreamy title song. Watching it one can’t help but lament with a heavy heart about such a talented life tragically wasted. 

The film has its share of clichés too—like the fact that Kizie and Manny’s taste in music doesn’t match. While she likes to hear soppy, mellow songs, he prefers the likes of Honey Singh. Along with Manny’s friend, the two of them start shooting a comical film together, and he shows her how to enjoy life. In turn, Kizie gets him to hear an incomplete soulful song by a singer whom she admires, and he begins to love the tune too. They write to the singer to conclude his song and request to meet him. Kizie can barely believe it when the singer invites them to Paris. Since her immune system is weak, it’s risky for her to travel, but with some coaxing, she goes to Paris along with Manny and her mother—who agree to fulfill her long-cherished dream. Though meeting the crazy singer (Saif Ali Khan) is a bit anticlimactic, the three of them have a great time in the city. 

With the stars of young love in her eyes, Kizie soon finds a raison détre in Manny, but filled with emotion, she frequently gets breathless and her heart beats faster when around him. Manny later tells Kizie that an ache had led him to discover sometime back that he too is going to die very soon. In a poignant scene, his family hugs him and cries, as his condition steadily deteriorates. He also attends a mock funeral for himself where his best friend and girlfriend read weepy vows to him, while he sits across and hears them out. Predictably the end of the film is melodramatic, made more true to life by the fact that SSR is no more in reality too. There are several dialogues that seem ironic now—and while they were being shot, no one probably had a clue about what the future holds. In one instance, Kizie tells Manny, “One doesn’t need to be popular to be a hero. You can be one in real life too.” 

The film’s subtle message is in the letter that Manny leaves behind before dying: “We don’t decide when we are born and when we die, but we decide how we live.” As Kizie tearfully watches visuals of the completed film that they had shot together, it could very well be Sanghi herself watching the completed Dil Bechara in real life now. In a sense, the film and SSR’s life remind you of the fleeting nature of existence itself, making you almost want to hug your loved ones a little tighter, laugh a little louder, and just live life a little more fully…

_____

Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in New Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world.