Tag Archives: TV

IC Interviews Abhishek Bachchan on New Prime Show

As a prelease to Breathe: Into the Shadows on Amazon Prime, India Currents’ writer, Monita Soni, had the privilege of exclusively interviewing Abhishek Bachchan via Media House. The actor shared his personal insights about the series:

Monita Soni: Hi Abhishek, we are all eagerly awaiting your digital debut in Breathe: Into the Shadows. The trailer looks stunning and very edgy! Please tell us a little about this series?

Abhishek Bachchan: Thank you! Well, we are about to release an Amazon Prime original series which drops later tonight in India! It is the story of my character, Avinash Sabharwal, his wife Abha, and their young six-year-old daughter who sadly gets kidnapped. And the kidnapper, instead of money for ransom, asks and makes Avinash commit murder in order to save his daughter. So the basic theme is how far are you willing to go for your family and for your loved ones. It’s a wonderful, emotional story. Although it has been built as a psychological thriller, I like to think of it as a family drama. I really enjoyed playing this fantastic complex and nuanced role. I’m very anxious to know what people are going to think about it. 

MK: Tell me one thing, how did you prepare for this particular role, it is a very challenging role. You have to commit a murder to save your daughter’s life. How did you get into the skin of your character?

AB: Well, there was an extensive prep that went into this role. Because, what was really nice, Monitaji, is that as compared to film, in which we get 2-3 hours to tell our story and justify it, over here we get almost 12 hours (because there are 12 episodes). So you get that much more material that you get to work on and that is very exciting for me. This is the first time you have been given the liberty of time (as an actor).

MK: Did you have to change your physical look for the role?

AB: No, thankfully I didn’t. I had to get rid of my famous beard look that I have had. 

MK: Well that suits you! Do you think playing this role has changed you emotionally, or do you look at life a little differently now?

AB: Well, you know, like I told you, the basic theme of the show is such that it does beg you to ask certain questions of yourself. For example, how far would you go for your loved ones? It’s a very nice question to ask on face value, but it is very difficult to put in practice, that’s when the problem starts seeping in.

MK: I think the kind of bonds we share in India with our family/children are special and (this role) would put a lot of emphasis on that aspect when we see this streaming. I think it’s our roots and love which make us think in a particular manner.

AB: Yes. Very possible! And I will agree with you on that.

We have admired his talent in numerous Bollywood hits for the last 20 years and we get to see him once more in a very different role. I am partial to his light-hearted roles with his own unique, heart-warming, comedic timing. But after talking to him, I could not wait to binge-watch this series and see him perform in this distinctive genre.

The trailer of Breathe: Into the Shadows, has a Quentin Tarantino like feel and the series delivers cyclic, edgy, cinematography. There is a fragile backstory about family bonds and the meaning of love and nurture is emphasized. After binging, I have replayed the interview in my mind, and now am even more impressed by Abhishek’s deep interpretation of a complex and flawed character. I can see why having more time in filming this series helped with character development which can be seen through his facial expressions and mannerisms. Abhishek admitted to reading a lot of plays at a young age and this series pulls from theater as a nod to Hamlet’s revenge.

The script tackles a myriad of awkward human behaviors linked to developmental psychology. And as a physician, I like the interplay between characters and their unscripted awkwardness. Nithya Menen’s performance as a young mother whose child has been kidnapped for several months is heart-wrenching and Amit Sadh’s performance as a poker-faced police officer, Kabir Sawant, is noteworthy. I also liked Hrishikesh Joshi’s character, as Kamble with a ”b”! 

The last episode promises that the story is to be continued…To take slight liberty as a fan, I misquote: “Breathe is like money and I can’t wait to spend it!

Wishing Abhishek Bachchan a quick recovery from COVID and the entire team of Breathe: Into the Shadows a resounding success.

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.

Mahesh Pailoor’s TV Debut on ‘The Blacklist’

Raised in a small town in Maine, born to immigrant parents, it has indeed been a long journey in filmmaking for the Indian American writer and director, Mahesh Pailoor.

Having studied filmmaking at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and later honing the skills from various film schools, Mahesh did his first short film, Little India in 2001. It premiered at SXSW and screened at different film festivals around the world. He has also directed award-winning documentaries, commercials, and branded content.

He moved onto, Brahmin Bulls in 2013 that garnered him many accolades, which had a notable cast including Sendhil Ramamurthy, Roshan Seth, and Academy Award Winner Mary Steenburgen. The film won the Audience Award at the San Diego Film Festival, the Jury Prize for Best American Indie at the Sonoma International Film Festival, and was released theatrically in the US and the UK.

On May 1st, 2020, he made his episodic television directing debut with NBC’s The Blacklist.

“I always wanted to be known as a visual storyteller, creating as many unique stories as I can. It has been a long journey so far and the goal was always to break into TV, meeting and networking with acclaimed directors. This Emerging Director program opened up a new universe for me and I would love to venture more in this space. Hopefully, this opportunity will pave for others,” opined the director.

Mahesh was chosen from 500 applicants for the NBC’s Emerging Director program, the network’s annual initiative for ethnically diverse male and gender non-binary directors. 

Celebrating its 10 year anniversary, the program aims to increase representation among scripted series directors. It took Mahesh years of hard work, perseverance, and rejections before this golden opportunity knocked at his doorstep. 

“I have been eyeing on this program for a while and had even applied once long back but did not get through. Though many networks offer such programs, the one offered by NBC is one of the best amongst them mainly because they offer lots of support, opportunity to shadow the directors, and then guarantee an episodic directing credit. The entire process involved the submission of my work and different levels of interviews. Once selected, my work was then sent to its different shows for the various teams to review. I was lucky enough to be chosen by the episodic directors of The Blacklist to shadow them,” said Mahesh Pailoor.

The Blacklist — “Brothers” Episode 718 (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

Lauding the team, Mahesh claims the experience on The Blacklist set in New York as invaluable, which helped him learn more about the nuances of television direction. “The shadowing experience was really amazing, especially to work with such experienced directors. Right from being on set, pre-production to post-production, it was great to have the first-hand experience. I got to work with them twice before embarking on my own directorial debut,” he said. “Once the crew knew me, they were really supportive as I ventured into directing. They were very cordial and rooted for me, which was the best part. The entire period with the team was phenomenal. To be a small part of this incredible series that has been running for seven seasons with remarkable characters, was an enriching experience,” added Mahesh.

Fascinated by his father’s video camera, Mahesh was attracted to the craft of storytelling at a very young age of 12. The captivating power of visuals made him realize its potency in communication and connecting with the minds of people. “The great stories around and the visual medium always inspired me.

Growing up, I realized the need for having more stories that I could relate to and which later steered my path into filmmaking,” recollected the director. Speaking further on how the representation of Indian Americans in Hollywood and American TV space has been evolving, he added, “Earlier, we could not relate to any characters on screen and the representation was very less. But things have changed over the last 3-5 years with more Indian Americans not just behind the camera but also in front of the camera. Even programs like NBC’s Emerging Director makes it more welcoming for all. Changes are evolving but still, there is a long way to go.”

Aiming at the television space for his immediate future plans, Mahesh is currently looking out to venture further into episodic direction. He is also co-writing a dramatic feature, an immigrant love story based on true events, which he also plans to direct with half setting in India and rest in the US.

Foreseeing a remarkable era for creativity and cinema, Mahesh concluded, “This is a golden time with so many digital platforms evolving, we get to watch such amazing content, accessible to all from anywhere around the world. The geographical barriers are disappearing and with the advancement of technology, anyone interested can now make a movie even with their iPhone and broadcast it. My advice to upcoming filmmakers is to grab this promising phase. Don’t wait for someone to say yes. If you have an amazing idea to share, then just do it. There is no need for a big crew or equipment, you can make something with friends. The goal should be to passionately follow your dreams and you will definitely find your way.”

Suchithra Pillai comes with over a decade’s experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading publications in India and the United States. In her spare time, you would either find her scribbling down some thoughts in the paper trying to find a rhyme or story out of small things or expressing her love for dance on stage.

YouTube is the Desi Mood

We gave up cable TV over seven years ago and thanks to sites like Netflix, Amazon Video, and HBO Go, we haven’t missed it at all. But, the real treat that resulted from cutting the cord is that it pushed me to seek information and entertainment on sites such as Youtube and Vimeo.

As I am sure most people know, Youtube is a universe of an endless variety of shows, shows that cater to the most niche of interests. 

For example, my son sent me a link to Primitive Technology, where a man who builds small structures using only the tools and materials that would have been available in pre-industrial times.

Primitive Technology

A friend sent me a link to Grandpa Kitchen, a channel of a man in South India who, seemingly single-handedly, cooks food outdoors on a massive scale, and feeds disadvantaged kids. As she put it, “He is so cute… his wrinkles have wrinkles!”

Grandpa Kitchen sharing Banana Pancakes

Finally, there are art and craft channels that feature everything from rangoli made using forks and bangles to reusing old newspapers to make Ganesh Chaturthi decorations. 

Watching these and other videos provides a mental health break, a creativity inspiration boost, and  pure entertainment. Even if I cannot do any of these things, it feels good to know that such creative people exist and also that the technology exists to make it available to me for free (or for the price of internet connectivity). Indeed, I would go so far as to say that at a time when the news is filled with grievances and acrimony, which in turn lead to feelings of helplessness or cynicism, videos such as these as well as their easy availability offer a sense of hope and possibility.

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Sometimes I need a culture or nostalgia fix–something that is as familiar and comfortable as a walk in the old neighborhood. The collection on Youtube is vast and I wouldn’t presume to offer a comprehensive survey or even a “best of” list. However, I have found some videos and channels that I recommend repeatedly to friends and acquaintances. So, I am doing the same for the India Currents community.

Old Bollywood songs: remixes, re-recordings, new voices

  1. S. Qasim Hasan Zaidi: A Pakistani professor of engineering and an accomplished musician, his channel has videos of him playing and singing old Bollywood songs. 
  2. Mayuri: Russian performers who love Indian dance and practice it with uncommon grace. I especially like their rendering of “mera naam chin chin chu” and “na moonh chhupake jio.” 
  3. Within India, a great revival of old hits appears to be in vogue. Pran Katariya’s channel features many accomplished singers, among them Anil Bajpai and Sangita Melekar. Similar groups have sprung up in many Indian towns and cities. 

Web series

  1. Sumukhi Suresh as the Maid is sassy and authentic.
  2. Tech conversations with Dad are funny and heartwarming.
  3. Episodes of “If apps were people” are original and hilarious.

Aam Aadmi Family is like Everybody Loves Raymond, but set in contemporary India and featuring quintessentially Indian situations. It features the middle-class Sharma family consisting of the parents, their two young adult children and Mr. Sharma’s elderly mother. What makes this show remarkable is that the situations are completely believable and the characters are as likeable as the people from one’s old neighborhood. This, even while the show breaks down stereotypes through its gentle sense of humor.

So, for example, the grandmother is not orthodox at all and is completely up on the latest lingo used in texting and other apps. The daughter breaks up with her boyfriend and upends the “girl-viewing” ceremony. The grandmother never misses an opportunity to gently jab at her daughter-in-law. These and similar situations are presented with a quirky and light touch. And then, of course, there are the quintessential Indian situations such as the ever-present, well-meaning neighbor, and the relatives and friends  who drop in unannounced for tea. For me, watching an episode of Aam Aadmi Family is like a quick 20-minute trip to India without leaving my house.

The show is truly innovative when it comes to its ad model. Each episode has a passing mention of a product or service, such as a mutual fund or diabetes-friendly oil. The advertisers deserve credit for sponsoring such creative and enjoyable shows and for delivering their message in a refreshingly subtle way.

Another show that revolves around Indian family life, but pushes the envelope in doing so is “Permanent Roommates.It features Mikesh and Tanya who have had a long distance relationship for several years. When the series opens, they have moved in together and Tanya is pregnant. Alternating between serious and funny, the series offers a what-if and believable depiction of situations that would have been unthinkable a few years ago and are probably unthinkable even today except in a cosmopolitan metro like Mumbai. 

For interesting short films I recommend channels such as Pocket Films, Whistling Woods International and Terribly Tiny Tales. For stand-up comedy there is East India Comedy and various comedians performing under the Canvas Laugh Club banner.

As a bonus, here are links to two short films that have very unexpected endings: “Rishtey and “Jai Mata Di

What did you think of the above suggestions? What would you recommend? Do post in the comments. In the meantime, happy watching!

Desi Roots, Global Wings – This is a monthly column focused on the Indian immigrant experience

Nandini Patwardhan is a retired software developer and cofounder of Story Artisan Press. Her writing has been published in, among others, the New York Times, Mutha Magazine, Talking Writing, and The Hindu. 

Family Karma

The Indian-American identity is the ultimate shape-shifter — every time I think I understand the culture I’m a part of, it evolves, embraces the impossible, and shatters my assumptions. And Bravo TV’s fresh doc-series titled ‘Family Karma’ is no exception. Never did I expect to see a version of myself through the medium of reality television, despite the United States’ robust Indian-American community. But ‘Family Karma’ captures the lives of seven young NRIs navigating relationships with their traditional Desi families against a peppy Miami backdrop. Walking a tight-rope between two cultures isn’t easy, as the series trailer demonstrates. Double-divorcee Bali strives to maintain a bond with O’Malley, her long-distance boyfriend. Meanwhile, Monica struggles to forge her own identity against the stereotypes of Indian culture. As Vishal finally approaches marriage, he grapples with the expectations of what it means to be a good husband. “We hold things in, we bottle it up,” as put by Vishal in the trailer. “Until one day, we explode.” The series holds petty squabbles, unsaid divisions, wrenching heartbreaks, songs — all the perfect ingredients for reality TV. ‘Family Karma’ isn’t a blend of sugar and spice; rather, it’s filled to the brim with garam masala, and the first of its kind at that. The first episode begins at 8 pm (Central Time) on March 8th. Click here to see the trailer!

Are We Past Peak TV?

It is said that we are currently living in the era of ‘Peak TV’ – as in ‘peak oil’, a concept developed in the 1950’s by industry experts who predicted that the production of petroleum would peak around 1970, after which the world economy would suffer due to lack of cheap energy.

As we all know, the day of peak oil never arrived, partly because the threat of climate change prompted the world to develop renewable resources and use energy more efficiently, and partly because new technologies such as fracking made it possible to keep producing more oil economically.

We may not have reached the age of peak oil, but we are definitely past Peak TV. For me, the age of peak TV began with the airing of HBO’s Sopranos, reached its apex with HBO’s Wire, and ended with the final episodes of Breaking Bad and Mad Men on AMC.

PBS (Masterpiece) took a stab at boob-tube eternity, but it is not clear if, in the annals of the small screen, Downton Abbey will have lasting power.

What disturbs me about today’s television offerings is not just their mediocre quality but also the fact that so many of them cater to mindless violence. Take HBO’s West World for example. The show has been hailed for its production values.  But the story makes no sense. You have a dude ranch where tourists go to experience the American West.  The twist is that employees at the ranch are robots who can withstand all kinds of abuse, torture, and killing perpetrated by the visitors.  Sick, right? But wait, this is not the worst part. The worst part is that not one guest at the ranch wants to do anything other than commit violence. The robots rebel in the end but instead of spreading the message of peace, they perpetrate more violence.

The much hailed show, Game of Thrones, also suffered from the same problem of gratuitous violence and rape.

Not only are the current television offerings violent, they are also dystopian.Take the acclaimed show Handmaid’s Tale.  Based on a Margaret Atwood novel, it depicts the takeover of the United States by a totalitarian theocracy in the wake of an environmental disaster rendering a majority of women infertile.The cinematography, acting, and direction are outstanding. But the trouble lies with the story itself, which is so exaggerated and dark that I could not watch it beyond the first season.

HBO was once the standard bearer of quality television but to watch its ambitious production, Succession, one has to hold one’s nose.  At the center of the story is a media mogul modeled on Rupert Murdoch and his brood of conniving children, who, following his illness, jockey to control his empire.  Critics have applauded the show for its realistic portrayal of greed and ambition, but the show does not have a single sympathetic character a viewer can root for.

The Deuce on HBO, created by David Simon who also created the Wire, is a realistic, gut-wrenching, and artistic show.  But although I revere David Simon, who was once a journalist for the Baltimore Sun, and who modeled the Wire on real news stories, I found the first season of the Deuce so bleak that I had to stop watching it.  The show evokes the beginning of the porn industry in the 1970’s  when prostitutes and pimps roamed Times Square and New York was as gritty as sin.  In the social science context, it may be important to tell the story of porn, which, with the rise of the Internet, has only grown exponentially larger.  And no creator can tell this story as authentically as Simon, who has based the show on real life characters and events. But when I watched the episode in which a young woman from a small Midwestern town arrives on the bus dreaming of stardom, only to be ensnared by a pimp who offers her love and devotion, I was torn to pieces. A viewer can bear only so much sadness.

Ozark, a Netflix show about an accountant who inadvertently gets caught up in a money-laundering scheme for a Mexican drug cartel, is gripping.  But it is the rule of natural selection on television that subsequent seasons have to ratchet up the violence, to a point where viewers can only flinch.  The Sopranos started the television trend of justifying murder for the sake of one’s family and Breaking Bad perpetuated it.  But Ozark carries it to such a level that one wonders where it will end.

The problem lies as much with the critics as with the creators.  The former are so invested in the idea of peak TV that they praise anything to high heavens.  Take the Good Fight on CBS, for example.  Critics glorified it so much that I paid to watch it, only to discover that it was nothing but a rehash of the Good Wife, with the same characters, story lines, and gimmicks.

Adding to my disenchantment is the fact that currently there is not a single comedy show on the air with the caliber of Seinfeld or Frasier or Cheers.

Ironically, Better Call Saul, the one quality show currently on television, was delayed for a year and is rumored to end soon.

Critics laud the current competition in the TV marketplace. But notwithstanding economic theory, competition has not produced higher quality television, it has just produced more of it.  In fact, competitive pressures on streaming giants like Netflix, Amazon, and HBO have resulted in new shows being rushed to the screen regardless of quality and then being cancelled with equal alacrity.   Also, some offerings which were not cancelled should have been. A case in point is the show Room 104 on HBO and the  movie Wine Country starring Amy Poehler on Netflix.

So what’s next?  What is the future of television?  I suspect the usual mergers and acquisitions will ensue, with the result that, soon, we will be forced to pay more money for lower quality television. And we will nostalgically watch the reruns of Mad Men ad infinitum.

Sarita Sarvate (www.saritasarvate.com) has published commentaries for New America Media, KQED FM, San Jose Mercury News, the Oakland Tribune, and many nationwide publications.