Friday, April 27, 2007

A World Apart

Anyone who has known me long enough has known what a fascination I've always had for Islam. So when I heard that we'd be visiting Mosques on our recce (pronounced 'rekky,' short for 'reconnnaisance'), I was internally jumping up and down.

The Regent's Park Mosque is perhaps the most prestigious and affluent Mosque in London. Lying in the heart of one of London's most posh neighborhoods, it is an architechtural beauty. A large golden dome, a tall white minnar, and lush, green grounds surrounded by tall iron gates.

I walked around cautiously and quietly ... there were few people on the grounds, and all men. The man who showed us around (the director of the mosque) was an affable Pakistani man, dressed in a crisp suit, with a light hearted demeanour, and made us all immediately feel at ease about shooting in the Masjid. We entered the main prayer room ... the carpet was rich in its pattern and shades; from the high domed ceiling hung an enourmous crystal chandelier. By the way, this Mosque is under direct jurisdiction by Saudi Arabia-- if that helps you imagine the kind of grandeur I'm trying to describe here.

The man asked me to wear a scarf to cover my head. I suddenly felt sheepish ... for someone who claims to be so 'into' Islam, that was a pretty daft thing to do. I had, however, changed my shirt several times in the morning when trying to figure out what to wear, because I didn't want to wear anything too form fitting or low cut. Oh well. It was a mental note to be made for when we came to shoot.

We confirmed our shoot of 3 days at the Mosque while the 5 of us sat at a 30 person conference table. This is the conference room where the Islamic (religious) leaders of 29 Muslim countries meet once a year. I thought to myself 'There are 29 countries with large Islamic populations ?' I think I could name 10.

I left that Mosque feeling like I had just a childhood fantasy come true. I really do look forward to shooting 3 days there.

Today, we visited a Madarsa - an Islamic school, that also had a mosque in it. A large brick building, right on the sidewalk in the middle of east London (i.e.ghetto), this place immediately had a totally different feel than the grand Regent's Park Mosque. I hesitated as the others in my group entered the 'Men's entrance.' An old man, in kurta pyjama, skull cap, with a long grey beard, befitting every stereotypical image I could conjure of a Maulvi shook his head smiling and said 'No, no, come in, it's ok.' I felt obliged, and walked slowly behind the men . Our production manager asked, 'Doesn't she need a scarf?' The man smiled, 'It's ok, humari beti hai.' I felt touched.

The man happily showed us the grounds. The 1st floor consisted of the main prayer room, the back room for funerals (as well as the room for preparing the body and the body refrigerator!) and the large kitchen with pots large enough to cook a whole lamb in, straight.

The 2nd floor was another large room where the Imam would preach sermons. This would be the room that we would be using for our shooting. Lucky for us, it was quite large, and the carpet was nice and rich looking -- similar to that of the other Mosque -- so it would work for us.

"In our Mosque," the old man proudly announced, "Men and women never see eachother."

He led us to the partitioned 3rd floor, where the students were taught. We entered a large room where 100+ young boys were seated on the ground in different groups. It was quite loud, and our entry definitely created an unexpected hush for the crowd: there was a girl their room. And that too, dressed 'immodestly' (I was wearing jeans and a sweater). I heard a 'cat call' of 'Subhanallah' as we walked past a group, but lucky for me, all the boys were under the age of 12, otherwise I would have felt really weird being there. I still felt weird being there.

We walked over to the girls section. I thought to myself, "Ok, now I'll feel at ease, and maybe the men will feel like the estranged ones." 40 girls sat on the ground at tables, all around 6-8 years of age ... wearing a black hijab that covered everything but their beautiful round faces, and curious eyes. To my surprise, I was still the object of amusement, and not the other 4 men accompanying me. I was allowed to see other rooms where the older girls were being taught, as the men waited outside. I also saw the separate women's entrance -- and couldn't help but notice that it had hard, cement steps, while the men's side had carpeted steps. Maybe I was reading a little too much into it?

We soon left the Madarsa, and I found myself rather in a rush to get out of there. Aside from feeling very out of place with four men, I felt like I was in a different world altogether. It was a world I was completely unfamilar with; something I had only read about. I know this experience will stay with me for a long time.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Alliteration: film festivals are fun

I really enjoyed myself tonight at the screening of Kamla. Deepti Naval was being honored with a lifetime achievement award, so they were screening 3 of her films at the festival ... one of which was Jagmohan ji's 'Kamla,' which was made waaaay back in '84. There was a Q&A for Deepti before hand, and then Jag introduced the film. We actually didn't sit around to watch the film (again!) bc both Jag and I had watched it recently.

I was feeling a little out of it at this point. I was tired of making small talk to the random people we kept running into. I also felt like I was tagging along with Jag, and just wasn't enjoying trying to catch up with his conversations with people. We were invited to a dinner that a small group of people were going to (abt 20) at a nearby restaurant called 'Tantra.' I was quite dreading it, to be honest, but knew it was something I had to do.

I sat at the end of a table of twenty people of which I knew about two. One of the guys sitting near us knew me from Cal (I have no idea how he placed who I was ... but he said Jag mentioned that I went to Berkeley when he introduced me the previous night on stage, so that's where he put two and two together). He seemed like a friendly guy; an aspiring actor and filmmaker, whose short had just screened at the film festival. He's from the Bay Area too.

But I spent most of the night chatting with the guy sitting next to me. He was nice and easy to talk to. Sometimes conversation becomes entirely small talk and forced at these kinds of things that you get tired after awhile. But he seemed a lot more ... um, I guess I would say real, for a lack of a better word. And then I found out that he was the director of a film that I had recently seen and thoroughly enjoyed at Cinequest, called 'Outsourced.' I was really happy to get to meet this talented, debut filmmaker and talk about his filmmaking experience. Unlike many white guys who are into India, this guy was really balanced and didn't come across as a hippie freak. Although he was vegetarian ... :-)

Overall, I had a really good time that night, and it made me want to frequent more film festivals ... except next time I want to go with a film of my own.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sleep Dep

It's my second day in LA and I'm already starting to feel sleep deprived ... I'm not used to waking up when I'm getting less than 8 hrs of sleep (more like 10) ... Yesterday was a fruitful day ... I did 1/2 hr of Kathak (and abs!), worked with Jag, ate healthy, hung out at Shilpa didi's for dinner, and came back and worked with Jag till 2:30 am. I'm sore today, both in my legs and my abs.
Now I just can't let the feeling of sleep deprivation take over.

Seeing Simran was a lot of fun. She was so excited to see me and Shashank arrive, and welcomed me with a big hug. She also quickly noticed the shopping bag in my hands and got her hands into it. And then she got into a photo session mood, and kept posing for pictures on my lap. I showed her a photograph on my camera display, so she learned to come to see the display after each and every picture. She's also at that parrot stage, where she repeats anything you say. It's really cute ... I'm glad that I got to see her just two months after the last time I saw her. Hopefully she'll remember who her Antara Mausi is :-)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

'Provoked' Premiere at the Indian Film Festival

I am quite impressed with the well organized and smoothly run Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. Red carpet, a lot of press, smoothly run, with people and drivers, constantly guiding and leading you in the right direction. Definitely a lot more organized than other Indian events and premieres I've seen in the past ... not that I've seen that many.

We got there and Jag was immediately swamped by the press. I hung out with Chandra aunty and other familiar faces I saw from the past -- some family friends of the Mundhras, other actors and crew I knew from previous films, and even a random friend from college. Nandita Das arrived, looking elegant as always, in a cream and gold sari. Nicholas Irons also came to support the film, with Sandra Teles. Thinking back at it ... I think Nick spent more time chatting with us than actually on the red carpet.

We went in for the opening of the film. Jag was introduced while we waited at the side. He spoke a little about the film, and his 27 year journey as a filmmaker. He went on to introduce Nandita, Nick, myself, and Uzma, inviting us on stage. After this we left, and actually didn't even get to watch the film, since the show was so sold out that we had to give up our seats. I don't think any of us particularly minded since we've all seen the film several times.

So we just hung out at the bar until the screening was over. My friend and I wanted to catch the reaction of the crowd when the film finished, but didn't make it into the theater at the end. I stood outside the theater, trying to listen to people's passing comments about the film. That didn't help. Finally, I just poked my nose into the audience poll basket ... it was filled with mainly 'goods' and a few 'greats.' I saw a 'poor,' and wondered who that was. That was the closest assessment I could get to the crowd reaction. Basing it on what people come and tell you is hardly indicative of the whole crowd ... those people who didn't like the film aren't going to come up and tell you that it sucked.

Afterwards we were guided to the Ivar, where the afterparty was. A really nice, big club, that I've never been to before. There was an area set aside for Provoked cast & crew, so we mainly hung out there. Free food, free drinks, decent company ... all in all it was a fun night. And, of course, the thing that made the night the best was the fact that the response of the film had been positive.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


I'm suddenly feeling nervous and anxious about the next three months ahead of me. I've become so accustomed to living my relaxed lifestyle out here; it's hard to change gears all of a sudden. I also have no doubt that as soon as I see Jag, I'll be back to my other 'normal' self, but I can't help but feel anxious nonetheless.
A lot is going to happen in the next three months; each day will be filled with many ups and downs, frustrations, accomplishments that often tend to feel overshadowed by other upcoming issues. Overall, it's an emotional roller coaster. And the lack of sleep doesn't help. But I'm psyching up for it ... this year is going to be more eventful than I had ever thought it would be!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Hindi Blogging

Apparently, now you can blog in Hindi. And it's not like that old style complicated keyboard which requires a manual to understand. Unfortunately, it's not supported by Macs.

The best Hindi font I had seen was during the Dot-Com boom. There was a new email service called It supported writing emails in about 12 different languages, six of which were Indian languages. And it was the simplest transliteration I had ever seen. You pretty much wrote words out phonetically, and it had simple rules for different sounds ... such as the 't' in 'tasveer' versus the 't' in 'tamatar.' I actually taught myself how to read and write Punjabi from that website.

Alas, the stock market busted, and Langoo disappeared. I hope this blogger Hindi font is as easy to use as Langoo was.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

To-Do List

These next few days are going to fly by. I can think of a dozen things I need to do before I leave:
1) sign tax papers, 2) deposit & send checks, 3) close bank acct, 4) go to appt with florist, 5) look at photographer's work, 6) book the photographer, 7) book tickets & hotel for beautician and pandit for the wedding, 8) buy stamps, 9) get a haircut, 10) pick up pants from the dry cleaners, 11) send film for development, 12 )complete & print out address labels for wedding invitations, 13) buy mom & dad's India tickets.

I'll probably think of a few more as I try to go to sleep. I'm excited about heading out to London. Really looking forward to starting a new film. Today I let Jag (my boss) know that I would have to go to India for a few days in the beginning of May, and he was ok with it ... which is a big relief for me. Now I'm ready to tackle the project ahead of me. Inshallah, all will go well.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Wrong Question

Everyone in the media seems to be obsessed with the upcoming Aishwarya-Abhishek wedding. That's expected -- it's one of the biggest weddings of the decade. But what pisses me off more is the fact that the media keeps posing the same question 'Is Aishwarya going to quit films after marriage?'

I mean, c'mon, puh-leez! This is not the 1970's when Jaya Bhaduri decided that it was improper for a married woman to be working in films, and left her booming career to be a housewife, and later raise their children. All Indian actresses in this day and age continue to work after marriage: Kajol, Karisma Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit; albeit, in limited quantity, but that's a personal choice. It's quite foolish to even pose that as an issue. In fact, even Jaya Bachchan has come back to work in films, so it really is not an issue of 'impropriety' anymore, is it?

So asking whether or not Aishwarya Rai is going to quit films is the wrong question. What's a more pertinent in this day and age is 'Will Aishwarya Rai change her name to Aishwarya Bachchan after marriage?'

Hold up ... this isn't the no-brainer that the Bollywood 'film fraternity' would tell you it is. I'm sure most of Bollywood feels that having the 'Bachchan' label is a matter of prestige; almost like being marked as royalty -- so why wouldn't you take the last name? But Aishwarya Rai is an international figure. In the last 10 years, she has established herself -- her brand name -- as Aishwarya Rai. Is she ready to change the name that she has become famous with, to something else?

My guess is she won't. In our society, it has become quite acceptable for women to keep their maiden names. Because of that acceptability, there is reluctance on the part of many women to go through the hassle of changing their names (social security, license, passport, credit cards, etc.) ... not to mention the emotional attachment you harbor for the name. It's your name after all; the quintessence of your identity at a glance, and beyond. I personally feel that you really have to be crazy in love with someone to change such a huge part of who you are for them. I'm not saying I don't think Aishwarya loves Abhishek enough ... who am I to know such a thing or make such a claim? I just don't think she'll do it. She's Aishwarya Rai. She's not just a Bachchan bahu, and she'll make sure people know it.

Result: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. A 'happy medium' that actually leaves neither side satisfied.