Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Letter to the Editor...

The following letter-to-the-editor was composed by me and sent to Mr. Phil Contrino of Boxoffice Magazine, the official publication of the National Association of Theater Owners.

It provides an argument for the economic and cultural benefits of increased public exposure to the Hindi film industry in the United States.

Dear Mr. Phil Contrino:

In Frank Capra’s words, Film is one of the three universal languages, the other two: mathematics and music.” As editor of Boxoffice Magazine, you are very well aware of film’s universal intrigue. In fact, you and your readers are among the world’s elite consumers (and producers) of film. Hollywood is undoubtedly recognized worldwide for its progressive, experimental, absorbing, and timeless works of art; however, film aficionados in the United States are unfortunately unaware of another art form: Bollywood. If Capra termed mathematics, music, and film to be the three universal languages, then Indian films shall be the fourth – for they represent a perfect coalescence between the aesthetic, the auditory, and the sentimental.

The promotion of this style of filmmaking is confined today to the country’s metropolises. These films’ potential audiences, and profits, are thereby inappropriately limited. But with a proper raise in awareness among the cinema elite, acknowledgement of potential profits by cinema owners, and continued interest on the part of consumers – the expansion of Bollywood in localities nationwide would prove conducive to the American moviegoer.

Referred to by the popular portmanteau “Bollywood,” the Indian film industry is not, as the name suggests, a sketchy rip-off of its American counterpart. The Indian films of today no longer represent the three-hour long, melodramatic, jingoistic, escapist masala films of yesteryear. Rather, as Richard Corliss of Time Magazine suggests, these films are “visually intoxicating…pristine…and visual chic.” Having grown up with these films and having witnessed the revolution in the Mumbai-based industry, I am convinced that the American audience is ready for something new, something different.

American moviegoers and critics have praised Mira Nair’s The Namesake, danced to AR Rahman’s Jai Ho, and read Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth. As Somini Sengupta named the phenomenon in her New York Times article, Americans are inebriated by “the new Indo chic” or even “Indofrenzy.” But in the opinion of any Indophile, this phenomenon is pitifully incomplete without exposure to Indian films. Organizations such as the National Association of Theater Owners must acknowledge this pattern of demand from the American public. According to, “Bollywood films now routinely cross the $1 million boxoffice mark in the United States.” In fact, the 2001 film Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham had reached No.10 on the U.S. boxoffice charts on its release weekend. As Kabhi Khushi’s marketing chief Vishal Patel questions, “If it is a formula that works for us, then why not cash in on it?”

So the question rests why theater owners do not request the expansion of Bollywood films in localities nationwide so that Americans outside the metropolises may enjoy what Regine Labossiere of The Seattle Times calls “Bollywood’s charms.” The principal reason is simply that Indian films are, evidently, foreign. Therefore, they are neither marketed widely nor given media attention. They belong to an unfamiliar culture; they emanate unfamiliar thoughts. Business Week’s Nandini Lakshman recognizes that “figuring out a way to translate Bollywood for Western audiences isn’t easy.” Nonetheless, this “figuring” can be done and it has been accomplished in past years. For example, East Asian cinema has gained a flourishing mainstream American market since the 2000 release of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and it is not uncommon to find a collection of East Asian movies on DVD at one’s local supermarket. In such a manner, I view this year’s Slumdog Millionaire as a gateway into India’s more authentic, homegrown, family-friendly cinema. As Deepa Mehta, director of the 2002 crossover film Bollywood/Hollywood suggests, “The world is becoming a smaller place.” And in the smaller confines of today’s globalized world, the passions of billions of global Bollywood-watchers can no longer be ignored.

But what guarantee is there that Bollywood films have a future on the United States boxoffice charts? Why shouldn’t American theater owners and distributors ignore the world’s largest film industry? To answer these questions, Andrew Hassam of the Australian literary magazine Meanjin cites a report by Hedge Funds Review acknowledging that “overseas [European and North American] territories are big money earners for [Indian] producers and distributors and so many films are now made with an international audience in mind.” Having been born and brought up in the United States, I certainly can verify the transnational appeal of Bollywood films. Furthermore, I have shared my personal collection of Indian films with friends of all backgrounds: young and old, black and white, conservative and liberal. This “globalization of Bollywood,” as Hassam states it, is “a way in which the exotic is absorbed into the mainstream.”Throughout my own experience, I testify that most viewers find something intoxicating within an Indian film whether it be the romance, action, family values, or especially music.

Undoubtedly, any astute discussion of the Indian film industry ignoring music would be blasphemous. And Seattle’s Labossiere deems the “power of music to involve viewers” one of “Bollywood’s charms.” As Hollywood is also aware, musicals have become big business within the past few years. From Disney’s High School Musical phenomenon to successful projects such as Rent and Mamma Mia!, musicals have gained strong followings transcending socioeconomic status, cultural, and age. Now imagine an entire industry catering to an existing market where more than 95% of films feature “colorful costumes, rhythmic music…and stories that celebrate family ties and true romance.”

Furthermore, William Jasper of The New American uncovers a surprising truth: “producing wholesome films is not only morally sound but financially rewarding.” Among film circles, the Indian film industry is infamous for its overtly repressed sexuality. This image has changed; this stereotype is no longer valid. Yet, as a UPI news wire report suggests, “most Bollywood on-screen kisses…are sanitized pecks on the lips.” Consequentially, Roshan Gill, owner of a Bollywood video store, comments that “all cultures can understand the movies because…there are always family values.” In an age when “the more explicit the sex and nudity are in a movie, the worse it does at the box office” – a selection of films in which “morality and tradition are recurring themes” could prove quite profitable to all parties.

On March 24, 2002, the Indian film industry made its first major step into modern America’s sphere of influence with the Oscar nomination of Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Lagaan for Best Foreign Language Film. Then, more recently, on February 22, 2009, A.R. Rahman became the first Indian national to win an Academy Award for his pulsating soundtrack for Slumdog Millionaire. As these two incidents infer, Indian films require the attention they deserve. Moreover, further exposure of Indian films to the American public is profitable – financially and morally. Interestingly, major Hollywood production houses have begun to invest themselves in India; Sony and Warner Brothers have produced Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saawariya and Nikhil Advani’s Chandni Chowk to China, respectively. With American executives taking note of the potential profits within Bollywood, the future for Indian film at local cinemas is bright.

Last winter, I attended a single screening of the newly released Indian film Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi starring India’s superstar, Shah Rukh Khan, popularly dubbed “King Khan.” Amidst the blizzard conditions of suburban West Michigan, around one hundred fans had congregated in the theater for this rare opportunity to watch Bollywood on the big screen – only miles from their houses. Waiting intently for the show to start, I could hear at least a dozen languages being spoken around me: English, Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Urdu, Arabic, and Vietnamese. The audience was global. They were families. They were laughing. They were crying. They were humming along to the music. They were speaking the fourth universal language – and they embraced it.

Boxoffice Magazine finds itself in an integral position to advance the awareness of Hollywood’s Indian counterpart: your publication extends its influence from filmmakers to film financiers, from movie theaters to moviegoers. I thank you sincerely for taking the time to reflect along with me on the niche for Indian films in the United States. To once again reference the words of Frank Capra, “Don’t follow trends, Start them!”

Respectfully Yours,

Nikhil Nandigam

Saturday, August 8, 2009

An Introduction to "Devdas" - Hindi

The following is a short introduction to my favorite Bollywood film - Devdas (2002). I designed this presentation as part of a Hindi/Urdu summer program for American high school students hosted by the Indiana Studies Program at Indiana University - Bloomington.

Title: "Devdas Meri Nazar Se" --- "Devdas Through My Eyes"
Date: July 2009

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Nationalism & Its Effects

“By nationalism…I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism.”

- George Orwell, Notes on Nationalism, 1945

Today is Memorial Day – a day of remembrance of those who have, and are, sacrificing their lives and their homely luxuries in order to protect our fundamental freedoms. Our leaders are seen honoring these citizens in uniform and comforting unsure families back at home; they promise that the end is near, that the battle has been fought.

What leaders do not recognize is that war is in their own hands – and so is peace. They have the power to arrest the cycle of destruction, hatred, and alienation amongst the nations, races, religions, and ideologies of the world. To accomplish such a feat is to sway the hostile winds of history toward a new path – a path of progressivism, a path of unity. What a secure, astute world requires is what one might deem a predominant doctrine of inter-nationalism to replace the fatigued, Cold War-era nationalism.


Case 1

 The Star - Spangled Banner is raised high into the clear, blue sky as hundreds of onlookers salute its prestige.

 With the world’s largest economy and a self-proclaimed cultural melting pot, the United States provides the perfect example of negligent, and often destructive, nationalism. This American form of nationalism has evolved into interventionism brought about by “the fear factor.” Be the threat Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, Iran’s nuclear program, North Korea’s nuclear tests, or Al Qaeda’s encroachment on Pakistan – the United States believes all the worlds’ evils shall direct their weapons toward its society. Such consistent practice of presumption combined with nationalistic fervor leads to deadly consequences: the Vietnam War, the current fiasco in Iraq, and the Guantanamo embarrassment, (just to name a few).

The Bush administration’s “War on Terror” – a war on an ideology, not an enemy – is a result of such heightened fear and trepidation. In essence, the United States possesses a “United States vs. Evil” foreign policy doctrine; therefore, the nation creates more enemies for itself by involving its military might in extraneous affairs and tensions the world over. The overwhelming burden is undeniably carried by the people who must supply their country with soldiers to combat the extrinsic.


Case 2

 The white, green, and saffron of the tiranga[1]waft through the humid air as farmers gather their crop for the yearly harvest.

 Sixty-one years after its independence, India proudly claims to be the world’s largest democracy and guardian of one of the world’s fastest growing economies – but the country has, is, and will remain plagued by the equivalent of an everlasting, giant leech: the Pakistan-Kashmir complex.

Were the nation to relinquish itself of its nationalism, the leech could simply be removed. But to the Indian government, and to the Indian people, seceding from Kashmir would signify its ultimate surrender to its neighboring rival, Pakistan.

Since the partitioning of India, the status of Kashmir has been disputed and has lead to a culture of rivalry between two peoples who were once united. Stubborn Indians believe that Kashmir forms the geographic “head of India” and that national identity would be incomplete without this block of rugged, yet gorgeous mountain territory. Meanwhile, stubborn Pakistanis struggle to comprehend why India would deplete its military and monetary resources for a strongly Islamic region whose people would prefer identification with Muslim Pakistan over Hindu India. The conclusion: an “India vs. Pakistan” doctrine. The political tension has unfortunately permeated into popular culture; the greatest victory for an Indian cricket team would be over Pakistan’s team.

And through the entire conflict, the people suffer. Terrorist organizations with questionable connections to the Pakistani government attacked Mumbai in November 2008. As Orwell writes, each side seeks only to advance “its interests,” thereby leaving common humanity behind.


Case 3

The regal Magen David [2]is hoisted above the azure waters of the luxurious Mediterranean beach, just miles away from a sanguine battleground.

Israel, a country that was destined to nationalist foreign policy from its very existence, represents a most severe example of nationalism’s detrimental effects. From Zionism to Palestine to the Mossad[3], Israel’s nationalism has promoted a largely dichotomous view of the nation to populations around the world: one either fully supports the Jewish state or one does not.

Furthermore, Israel has successfully manipulated the horrors of World War II into its national identity and into its current politics. One who is against current Israeli actions is easily termed anti-Semitic and insensible to the Jewish past. Such false corollaries are only augmented by the substantial military aid provided to Israel (a fully industrialized nation) from nations like the United States. When one publicly opposes such donation of military aircrafts or protests against excessive military action against Palestinians, Israel instantly defends itself by conjuring images of Nazi Germany. Unless this correllary is dismantled, progressice strides toward peace shall remain nearly impossible.

Secondly, Israel exemplifies a state in which, due to nationalism, has alienated its minorities. Former President Carter explicitly stated this fractured relationship by appropriately titling his book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” Not surprisingly, a recent United Nation's conference on racism was jeered and boycotted (especially by the United States) due to its critical view on Israeli policy toward non-Jewish citizens. One must remember that Israel is a theocratic democracy – practicing the will of its citizenry, but within extent of a sole religious ideology. The result is alienation, and consequentially, the creation of firm enemies. And in a global neighborhood – especially one comprising of nuclear powers – the creation of firm enemies concludes in determined bloodshed.



As our country mourns and memorializes those military men and women who have magnanimously sacrificed for their country and its ideals, one must question the greater well-being of humanity, not just of Americans. The destruction of borders and national identity is not the solution and is most definitely not demanded. Rather, steps toward cooperation and unity offer our world the greatest hope, a shift from nationalist unilaterialism to inter-nationalist communication. The European Union has united Europe's greatest (and historically most adverse) powers with a goal of economic and military stability. Europe has witnessed the grotesque nature of two World Wars on its soils – and hopes to prevent further fracture through unity. Unfortunately, such a system of cooperation and compromise is lacking in many communities, thus leaving the people, the potential, and the future behind in a black smog of fired artillery.

[1]               The Indian flag; “tricolor”

[2]               The hexagonal “Star of David” upon the Israeli flag

[3]               Israeli Intelligence Agency, often criticized for overly severe actions such as torture     and assassinations

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Jawad Ali & KS Chitra - "Bi Amr Al Hob"

A few weeks ago, the young Saudi singer Jawad Al Ali released his new 2009 album titled "Bi Amr Al Hob."

What distinguishes Jawad Al Ali from the scores of other Rotana-supported Khaleeji singers? This determining factor is clearly his passion for fusion and global interpretation of music. His musical style is more similar to that of the Kuwaiti group Guitara than to his fellow Saudis such as Abdo or Abdul Majeed Abdullah. 
Jawad most definitely isn't afraid to take advantage of the influence of the Khaleej's massive South Asian population. He has previously filmed a music video with a Bollywood theme and has also sung some Hindi lyrics on a television show.
But the 2009 album,"Bi Amr El Hob," represents a new, grander effort at building a bridge across the Arabian Sea. In the album, Jawad works with famed Indian playback singer KS Chitra to produce a beautiful duet - and the album's title song.

The song appears in three different versions on the album:
  1. Hindi
  2. Hindi/Arabic
  3. Turkish/Hindi/Arabic
Needless to say, the track itself is a gorgeous blend of vintage orchestration and new-age fusion. At the beginning, one hears Chitra and Jawad race through intricate Indian scales and then the track progesses into grand Oriental orchestration with an always subtle tabla.
A high point of the track is listening to Chitra's high-pitched melifluous voice glide over the Arab orchestration. 
I find only one aspect of the track detracting. One hears, for example at 2:07, an eerie "voice" of technical garbage. I would have loved to hear more natural vocals in this computer's place - whether it be Chitra's or Jawad's. But this is only a miniscule detraction; this track is yet impressive.

In my opinion, I've been swept by "Bi Amr El Hob" to an extent that the other tracks on the album are not worth mentioning. In this I mean that they are no different (to me) from other Khaleeji songs. Khaleeji audiences with more understanding of the lyrics might better embrace these other tracks. 

Overall, congratulations to both Jawad Al Ali and KS Chitra on this accomplishment. Hopefully, such partnerships shall continue both in music and in global politics.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Arabic Pop Recommendations (2006-2007)

Since I "discovered" the Arabic pop music industry about three years, there have been many albums that I have become attached to. Each of the following albums are full of talent and entirely merit your purchase of an original copy

If you are an enthusiast of Arab culture, or any culture for that matter, please help propagate the GOOD the media and poilitcs have polluted the Western mind through depicting the Middle East as a fanatic and backward region of the world. Unfortunately, beauties such as Elissa and Nancy Ajram are never seen/heard in the West...but every channel is just aching to replay the next bin Laden video. What a pity!

Enjoy the music:

Artist: Elissa
Nationality: Lebanese
Label: Rotana

Artist: Najwa Karam
Nationality: Lebanese
Label: Rotana

Artist: Asala Nasri
Album: Sawaha Galbi (2007) - Khaleeji
Nationality: Syrian
Label: Rotana

Artist: Ramy Ayach
Nationality: Lebanese
Label: Rotana

Artist: Nancy Ajram
Nationality: Lebanese
Label: Art Line Music

This extremely short list is by no means definitive. Rather I hope it serves the needs of newbies to the genre of current popular Arabic music. These were the albums with which I started my obsession/journey into the intricate Middle Eastern pop industry. These albums are catchy, pleasant to the Western ear, and diverse in their styles of music ranging from Dabke to Western pop ballads. 

Find something that works for you...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Jannat - Hob Emtelak (2009)

Artist: Jannat 
Nationality: Moroccan
Album: Hob Emtelak (2009)
Label: Good News 4 Music

As this is my first review of an Arabic-language album, I would like to explicitly state some things:
  • I am not an Arab speaker nor do I understand any of the lyrics - a song might have top-rate lyrics, but I may reject it due to my own lack of awareness.
  • I have become familiar with the Arabic music industry since two years ago; I am not a pro, but I am proficient
  • I LOVE Arabic music; it is second only to Bollywood :)
So let's start with some first impressions:

I must admit that I had never listened to even a single song by Jannat before the release of "Hob Emtelak." Through browsing Al Bawaba's entertainment section, I came across an article which read like an advertisement for the album, claiming Jannat's sophomore album a "master-piece." 
Secondly, I must also admit that I have a strong pro-Rotana bias. I seem, either consciously or subcosciously, to overlook a non-Rotana album unless the artist is very well known. Had I not read the stellar review by Al Bawaba, I might have ignored Jannat's Good News 4 Music-produced album. Fortunately...I didn't.

What about Jannat?

Another bias that I have is my feeling that all Egyptian male songs start sounding repetitive - same with the females. For this reason, I am not a great fan of megastars such as Amr Diab and Tamer Hosny. I seem to enjoy albums with a mix of Egyptian, Lebanese, and Khaleeji songs; I admire diversity. I also seem to disregard Egyptian-style singers because of their very
 soft voices. For example, Angham, Amr, and Tamer, and ZeeZee Adel all possess this quality. I found Jannat's voice to also seem extremely soft, but her songs in "Hob Emtelak" are NOT repetitive. And due to this, I've listened to her album at least 5 times since its release. 

Certain songs in the album definitely stick out to my ear:

Essmaa Kalami - This ballad style really suits Jannat. I really prefer her voice without all the digital alteration. The low-key instrumentals allow Jannat's voice to shine. The soft flow of strings and the saxophone (especially at the end) is effective.

Al Teflah Al Bareah - This is another ballad, except with a more pronounced background beat and piano. I was also charmed by the song's introduction using percussion (maybe a type of xylophone) that reminded me of a lullabye or a fairy tale. 

Ana Donyetoh - This dance/electronica style isn't one of my favorites, but I really appreciated the Oriental orchestration in combination with the synthesized beats. "Ana Donyetoh" is a great lounge track. 

Ashan Khatrouh - This is a full on pop song. The beats are very strong, but unlike some other singers, Jannat doesn't allow the music to overpower her voice. Very upbeat and fast, "Ashan Khatrouh" demonstrates that Jannat can do justice to both sensitive Elissa-style ballads and coquettish Haifa-style pop.


After less than a week with this album, I am not sure whether "Hob Emtelak" can be considered a masterpiece, but the album is definitely worth $10. Considering the popularity of her debut album "Elli Benni Wa Benak" and the variety of songs on this album, "Hob Emtelak" deserves the success that it will surely meet.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Luck By Chance Music Review

Film: Luck By Chance (2009)
Music Director: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy
Lyricist: Javed Akhtar
Length: 34:31
Label: Big Music

After an immensely successful album in 2001's trend-shifting Dil Chahta Hai, S-E-L had reunited with Farhan Akhtar to produce India's critically-acclaimed Rock On in 2008. While that album appealed only to one section of the Bollywood audience in terms of musical genre, 2009's Luck By Chance provides a more diverse collection and laid-back ambience. Its soundtrack is musically complex. The album blends East and West, old and new - all to provide quality music. And in a film which itself is dedicated to demystifying the "smoke-filled room" of the modern Indian film indsutry, not to have first-rate music would have been blasphemous. Fortunately for the audience - and Farhan Akhtar - SEL deliver to provide the best soundtrack yet of 2009.

The album contains six tracks with one remix:

1. "Yeh Zindagi Bhi" 

"Yeh zindagi bhi kya kya humko dikhlati hai...?" 
"What does this life show us....?"

The song begins on a reflective note complemented only by a lone beat in the background. But it quickly picks up pace. The track is soothing and effectively uses piano instrumentation to produce a track that is subtle, yet charming upon first listen. The track might seem "empty" to those used to more pedestrian Bollywood tracks, but "Yeh Zindagi Bhi" is simple and allows the mind to ponder its lyrics - it is absolutely devoid of "noise". Javed Akhtar's words are extremely colloquial and simple, yet profound. The chorus is mesermising with its uplifting "Chhune hai..." and a last mention goes to the interludes (for example at 1:23).

Overall, this track is as transendental minimalist as Bollywood can get.

2. "Baawre" 

If "Yeh Zindagi Bhi" was minimalistic, this second track "Baawre" is a gaudy, colorful, overacted funfest. This song is extremely deceiving. The first 45 seconds of the track is in traditional, classical ghazal style. At this point, the listener is expecting a track similar to Rahman's Bhor Bhaye from Delhi-6. But then the beat picks up and the song really begins. The theme is largely Rajasthani, so one can expect colors and grandeur with the song on-screen. Also, SEL inovatively included a Latin-styled interlude (2:55) complemented by Hindustani vocals which, surprisingly, works. The interlude is then followed by a Panjabi theme which closes off the song.

"Baawre" is likely to be a visual spectacle on-screen, but is still rather ordinary.

3. "Pyaar Ki Daastaan"

"Jab hawaein sunati hain tere mere pyaar ki daastaan/Sunti hai yeh fiza/Sunti hai yeh zameen/Sunta hai aasmaan"
"When the winds announce our love story/The two of us listen/This earth listens/This sky listens"

And we definitely listen as well! With the album's third track we return to another simple melody picking up where "Yeh Zindagi Bhi" had left off. "Pyaar Ki Daastaan" also heavily features piano instrumentation; the piano is most bold when the lyrics "...pyaar ki daastaan..." are sung - the piano accentuates each word perfectly. Once again, Akhtar's lyrics are extremely accessible and effective. Mahalakshmi Iyer's female part of the duet is rich and satisfying. This track is clearly romantic in an escapist sense. The songs grand orchestration contributes to a feeling of fresh wind and clean mountain air. 

"Pyaar Ki Daastaan" is a refreshing track which takes the best of Indian escapist film and the best from Farhan Akhtar's arthouse sensibilities. In the end, the credit goes to SEL for making it all happen in this track.

4. "Yeh Aaj Kya Ho Gaya"

"Jaane yeh sab kya hai/Jo bhi hai naya sa hai/Hairat mein dil kho gaya/Yeh aaj kya ho gaya"
"Who knows what this all is/Whatever is new/In the confusion, my heart was lost/What's happening today?"

"Yeh Aaj Kya Ho Gaya" is the necessary rock-themed song. The song itself doesn't seem very innovative or new, but nonetheless is extremely enjoyable. After hits like Bachna Ae Haseeno's "Lucky Boy," listening to Sunidhi Chauhan singing a melodious, innocent song was pleasing. However, this track reminded me of the Hindi release of the High School Musical soundtrack which also features Sunidhi and compositions by SEL. Javed Akhtar's lyrics are fun, and once again colloquial, yet satisfying.

Listeners will definitely enjoy this track, especially its energy and youthful vibe. But with "Yeh Zindagi Bhi" and "Pyaar Ki Daastaan" setting such high standards, "Yeh Aaj Kya Ho Gaya" slightly disappoints.

5. "Sapnon Se Bhare Naina"

"Sapnon se bhare naina/to neend hai na chaina"
"Eyes full of dreams/That sleep is not peaceful"

Another one of Shankar Mahadevan's inspirational songs set on the film's leading man, "Sapnon Se Bhare Naina" is a fast, plusating song. An eeriness and darkness is present in the song, perhaps paralleling the nature of Mumbai and the film industry itself. This track does not stand out for any reason, although Mahadevan's Hindustani classical interlude (3:00) is appreciated and enriching. One point to note is that the literary value of the album jumps with this track, and Javed Akhtar is to be thanked for that.

6. "O Rahi Re"

"Kisi ko nahin hai pata/Rahi re O rahi re/Kahan ja raha hai bataa"
"No one knows/O companion/Tell me where you are going"

Upon hearing this track, it immediately reminded me of another SEL track from the 2006 film Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna - "Mitwa." Both tracks have a similar theme of companionship. "O Rahi Re" stands out with its acoustic guitar instrumentalization. Shankar Mahadevan is also very appealing in this track, especially with the line "Bol tera kaunsa rastaa" to which he adds some Hindustani flavor. In terms of lyrics, Javed Akhtar chooses mostly from Urdu which gives the track an ambience of acoustic Sufi rock. 

This last original track of the album is very enjoyable and complex. Although one might need a few listens to appreciate the song, "O Rahi Re" makes up for a somewhat dull "Sapnon Se Bhare Naina."


"Luck By Chance" is a marvelous album targeting today's youth. Furthermore, it complements a film of international standards and appeal. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy had established themselves in the industry years ago, but at this moment - their presence is second only to AR Rahman. But with a few more consistently stunning, diverse, experimental albums, SEL have a great chance of becoming India's premier musical geniuses. 


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Best of Bollywood - Romance

4. Thursday - Romance
Starring: SRK, Preity Zinta, Rani Mukherjee

Veer-Zaara is master director Yash Chopra's most recent effort and can easily be named an eternal story of not only love, but also of dedication, perseverance, and humanity. With a backdrop of tensions between India and Pakistan, Chopra tells the love story of an Indian Air Force pilot being detained at a prison in Lahore, Pakistan for over twenty years. One day, an ambitious female lawyer, Saamiya Siddiqui (played by Rani Mukherjee), arrives to defend Veer and try his case in court. It is during this period, that Saamiya is able to probe Veer's brain and extract an unbelievable love story. The love story between Veer and Zaara (played by Preity Zinta) is crafted second only to the love story between India and Pakistan - their people, their villages, their colors, and their traditions.

This film, being from the Yash Raj camp, has the gloss, necessary song-in-the-mountains, Lata & Udit duets, and corny lyrics - yet it retains its heart. Veer-Zaara is an intellectual's film in a masala film package. Needless to say, the 2005 Filmfare Award for Best Film went to Veer-Zaara.

The soundtrack by Madan Mohan is amazing and reminds one of older Bollywood soundtracks from the '90s. 

Other ROMANTIC films include:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Best of Bollywood - Family Drama

3. Wednesday - Family Drama
Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, SRK, Kajol, Hrithik Roshan, Kareena Kapoor

The glossy, sentimental, cotton candy family drama has always been a mainstay for the Yash Raj camp - and of the Indian film industry itself. Directed and produced by Karan Johar, K3G is Johar's magnificent follow-up to his 1998 classic, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham is the story of a family which holds tradition with utmost importance...and this causes familial rifts and fractures the once khushi family, leading them to years of ghum. Although the sets and wealth, though beautiful, clearly lack conviction or any sense of reality, the heart of the film rests with Johar's portrayal of Indian culture. The viewer notes that in a world where (metaphorically) families live in castles, dance in Egypt, and return home by private helicopter - the mellennia-old Indian, specifically Hindu, culture still prevails in determining an individual's identity and perspective on the world. And in an era of Indian commercial boom, Johar's K3G shows that Indian culture must not consequentially suffer a bust.

Once again, most great films also feature great music - this time composed by the duo Jatin-Lalit. Notable tracks include Suraj Hua Maddham, Bole Chudiyaan, Yeh Ladki Haai Allah.

Buy the DVD Here - Currently Out of Stock 

Other DRAMATIC films include:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Best of Bollywood - Social Commentary

2. Tuesday - Social Commentary
Starring: Aamir Khan, Soha Ali Khan, Siddharth, Madhavan, Alice Patten

Rang De Basanti (Color It Yellow) proposes to bring the voice of India's youth to the international spotlight. RDB's characters are Hindu and Muslim, rich and poor, liberal and conservative, light-skinned and fair-skinned - yet together they represent an India tired of corruption, fighting, and deception by society's ad antiquitatem rhetoric. Furthermore, director Rakeysh Mehra (of Aks and Delhi-6 fame), creates a haunting parallel between the state of today's Indian youth and the eternal freedom fighters of India's Independence movement. This film is preachy to an extent and has an unconventional ending which may not appeal to all viewers. Yet, Rang De Basanti was one of the most critically-acclaimed films of 2006 and it fully merited its Filmfare Award for Best Director and BAFTA nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. For those politically-minded or wishing to view an antithesis to the stereotypical Bollywood film - I strongly suggest Rang De Basanti.

A.R. Rahman's soundtrack, for which Rahman won the 2007 Filmfare Award for Best Music Director, once again deserves a very special mention.

Other THOUGHTFUL films include:

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Best of Bollywood - Historicals

1. Monday - Historicals

Jodhaa-Akbar (2008) Starring: Hrithik Roshan, Aishwariya Rai

A film of epic proportions arrives as a prequel to 1960's classic Bollywood film, Mughal-e-Azam. Almost fifty years later, director Ashutosh Gowariker (of Lagaan famestages a beautiful costume drama recounting the love story of beloved liberal Mughal Emperor Akbar and his proud wife, Rajput princess Jodhaa Bai. The film follows both the political alliance as well as the marriage alliance, and for this, Jodhaa-Akbar won the 2009 Filmfare Award for Best Film. Another note of appreciation should go to composer A.R. Rahman who gifted this film with songs that held the appeal of twenty-first century youth yet stayed true to the sixteenth century Mughal courts of northwest India.  Definitely a historical that is not-to-miss!

Other SPECTACULAR historicals include:

The Best of Bollywood

As I hope to focus this blog on global events and entertainment, a quick introduction to the world's largest film industry is quite necessary.
Hollywood + Bombay (now Mumbai) = BOLLYWOOD

Some in the industry find this term rather offensive as it hints at a culture devoid of originality. I, on the other hand, see Indian film as a medium separate from Western film. Indian directors utilize drama, dance, music, and vibrant aesthetics to deliver what Western audiences could only witness in the grand escapist films of the early 20th century. To say that the industry produces movies is a great understatement; Bollywood produces an experience.

More about "Bollywood theory" will be discussed as this blog evolves. For now, I shall leave you with a week-long look at my favorite Indian films from various genres. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Reactions to "Jesus Camp"

“THE JESUS CAMP”: Through the Eyes of an Atheist
Observations by Niknan

Watch it here:

This film SCARRED me. Moreover, I had to remind myself that it wasn’t a film, but a documentary – documenting events happening in the richest nation on Earth. This was happening in the United States! I also have come to the conclusion that what these people are practicing is not religion. As far as I know, it’s far from the peace, love, acceptance, and harmony taught at the core of each belief – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, AND atheism.
An atheist ponders religion.
Nonetheless, I would like to provide a critique of the community/sect/cult presented in the film. I provide that this critique, like the documentary, will appeal to both conservatives and liberals. But I will NOT restrain any of my own opinions for the sake of being less offensive.

Subjects: Becky Fischer, Kids in Ministry International , leader of the “Jesus Camp”

Levi, a 12 year old boy with ambitions of becoming a preacher

Rachael, an 8-ish year old “mall missionary”

Mike Papantonio, a radio host critical of the Christian right, provides a moderate perspective – a voice of reason.


The documentary opens up with a “song and dance” program held at the Christ Triumphant Church. The children are wearing Military camouflage with their faces painted. They brandish sticks and dance to lyrics: “Arise, Arise…He will shake the nation”. This image is enforced throughout the documentary’s 90 minutes as Fischer calls for a generation of Christians to retake America for Christ. She calls for an army of Christians to counter the Muslims in “Pakistan, Israel, and Palestine.”

This is troubling. It’s extremely difficult not to see the similarities between these camo-covered children and those children seen on rough archived video of Al Qaeda training its militants. In fact, this form of militant Christianity is much more powerful than Al Qaeda’s; it had the Bush Administration’s blessings and also those of Ted Haggard (weekly advisor of Bush). Further, this Christian right has the money and resources to achieve its goals, whatever they might be.

This act has shown up multiple times in the documentary, yet I am still not clear what it achieves. If only those hundreds of children took the opportunity to learn a real language to “hook up with” real people – our world would be a more peaceful place. 

“I can go into a playground of kids that don’t know anything about Christianity, lead them to the Lord in a matter of just no time at all. And just moments later they can be seeing visions and hearing the voice of god because they’re so open. They are so usable in Christianity.” – Becky Fischer
This is disturbing enough and doesn’t need commentary.

“President Bush…has brought some real credibility to the Christian faith.” – Becky Fischer
President Bush plays a huge role in the lives of this community, although he never actually appears personally. We see his picture posted on a family’s refrigerator. We see a life-size cardboard cutout of Bush being brought to a podium and being blessed by hundreds of children. Seriously… if you need Bush to bring credibility to your faith, there is 1) something wrong in your faith or 2) something beautiful in Bush. Your choice.

The documentary also shows families at Ted Haggard’s evangelical church in Colorado Springs. Levi, the ambitious preacher, is in awe of Haggard and speaks with him personally after the sermon. Haggard then continues to explain how “kids love the Evangelical message” and how churches like his can “sway every election.”

Ironically, in 2006 Haggard was removed from leadership positions after soliciting a male prostitute and dealing with meth. Not exactly the winner of “Evangelical Idol.”

“If you look at Creationism, you realize it’s the only possible answer to all the questions.” 

“Science doesn’t prove anything.”

– Mother of home-schooled Levi.

I was very confused by these comments. Overgeneralizations aside, I assume that when one says that Creationism has all the answers, we are entering into the cycle of circular Biblical reasoning. The Bible might provide a story, but not facts. Science provides facts which must be built into a story.

Let’s take into account that the Ancient Egyptians believed the flooding of the Nile was attributed to God. We no longer believe so because of a certain level of scientific attainment (satellites, radars, patterns, etc). In fact, we find such reasoning foolish and naïve. We now have reasons; we now know that floods are not random acts of God. I am sure that generations of the future will find today’s religion just as foolish and simplistic as we find those of the Ancient Romans or Greeks. 

Having never been a part of the “Judeo-Christian” heritage, it’s this supercilious sentiment which I find most harmful to our world. As an outsider, I don’t see why people can’t be content with their own beliefs rather than trying to force them on others as well. It’s a question of quality over quantity.

A scene at a bowling alley, shows Rachael praying as she bowls the ball. While waiting for her turn to bowl, we also see her reading a Christian tract. Although I don’t agree with this, I found it as acceptable private practice of religion. But this sentiment changed when Rachael walked over to the neighboring lane and handed the tract to a woman in her twenties claiming that:

“God’s just telling me that you’re on his mind and that he wants to take you…and love on you and he has special plans for you.”

Rachael then returns to her father and proudly explained how God drew her to the woman. Needless to say, the father was full of smiles and encouragement for his missionary daughter. 


Interestingly, when Levi attended Ted Haggard’s church and rock concert, he was wearing a black shirt with a clear image of the Taj Mahal on both the front and the back. Has anyone explained to him and his family that the Taj Mahal was built as a monument for eternal love by a MUSLIM Mughal Emperor *gasp*!!! Burn that shirt!!! Cleanse his soul of Satan!!!


Overall, this documentary opens Americans to the radical extremists in their own nation. It asks the religious moderates to debate the radical factions of their faith. And it asks the nonreligious to cooperate with the moderates in order to preserve America’s image of secularity. 

Personally, knowing that a cult faction of the extreme right is intent on a twenty-first century Manifest Destiny is not comforting. 

Moreover, in a globalized society, a United States overcome by such Evangelical rhetoric in practice will be unsustainable. And we were witness to only the tip of the iceberg under the Bush Administration. 

Rather, we must lose the ethocentricity and xenophobia which have conquered the nation for the past decade. And bring together once again the fractured society of the United States to its original, intended equilibrium.