Über Desi

Keeping it real, desi ishtyle

The first token desi on American TV

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This interesting feature on BBC talks about the recent emergence of actors of South Asian origin in Hollywood and US television shows. For decades, they were relegated to token and stereotypical roles. As recently as a couple of years back, one of the biggest South Asian names, Kal Penn, played the role of a ….. surprise ….. terrorist on the TV show, 24. Besides Penn, the article also talks about other popular TV names like Aasif Mandvi and Pooja Kumar.

However, before any of the current crop had an opportunity to be stereotyped and marginalized, Noel De Souza, was busy personifying these terms.

In the early 1950s, India-born Noel De Souza studied theatre in California, where his schoolmates were Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman, now Hollywood veterans. But Indians were so foreign to American viewers that De Souza had to play Latinos in Hollywood films for many years.

Before Kalpen Modi was born, Noel De Souza had played the token desi guy in screen gems like Jungle Jim (1955), Never So Few (1959), the TV show Mission: Impossible (1969) and Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974), Sanford and Son (1974) and The Man with the Power (1977). He also ended up playing a Latino in other screen gems like the TV series Zorro (1958). Of course, I use the term “screen gems” in a sarcastic manner but that should give an idea of how stereotyped and marginalized this actor was.

Noel De Souza attained the nirvana of stereotyping when he played the role of Gandhi. Star Trek: Voyager fans from the 90s probably noticed a Gandhi in one of the episodes. That Gandhi was played none other than Noel De Souza. [Video: Gandhi starting at 3:30 mark]

And yes, that is Gandhi with a skimpily clad woman. Where’s Zed uncle when you need him?

White House Diwali – why so touchy?

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Rediff reports:

Obama’s Diwali celebration upsets Indian-American community.

Here’s the back story – ex-president Bush started the practice of hosting a Diwali event since 2003, courtesy request of the Indian-American community and it’s been a practice ever since. Some of the events have been full fledged and upto two hours long, while some, like last year’s,  have been less flashy.

While the article about the first Obama-era Diwali, quoted above, points out reasons why Indian Americans are upset (mostly elderly immigrant Indians), the rest of the article quotes two second generation desis – both staffers at the White House (including Kal Penn – supposedly the organizer for the upcoming event), deny that this would be a ‘diluted’ event. Couple of changes include, the venue  is now moved INTO the Whitehouse as compared to previous occasions when it was hostedn in an adjacent building, and also George Bush never made it to any of the Diwali events since 2003, always sending a   representative instead. Obama however, will attend the event this year. And this time, the event is open to all Asian-Americans and not exclusive to desis only.

The glitch however, seems to be that none of the community activists have been invited (yet), and since Kal Penn – a first timer is in charge of the event, it may well be  be a miss for those waiting to get an invitation to the Whitehouse for Diwali.

Scouting for news articles – I did not, however, find any statements from any acclaimed Hindu statesmen (yet).

So what do readers think? Is Fasicst Obama trying to dilute ‘our’ Diwali event, so that Kenyan festivals are more popular in Whitehouse (this is where, you add a smiley in your head)?

Or is it a case of some senior (and quite possibly invitation -deserving) activists feeling left out and blaming clueless Obama for trying to ‘dilute’ a celebration?

And just another snippet of info, an article dated from 2004 (by the same author as in Obama’s article, Aziz Haniffa from Washington D.C.)  -

Bush’s snub of White House Diwali celebration irks Indian American supporters and guests alike

Me thinks, we are way too touchy about having Diwali, in WhiteHouse, in the way we want it. (It’s Whitehouse – not our own house).

Shout out your thoughts in the comments section below.

Kal Penn to play Gandhi in new Oliver Stone movie on Gandhi assassination

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Controversial Hollywood director has tapped Kal Penn to play the role of Mahatma Gandhi in his new production. [link]

When Oliver Stone was presented with the script of MKG, he was stuck with the unenviable task of finding someone to play Indian leader, Gandhi. MKG stands for Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, popularly known an Mahatma Gandhi. Stone wanted an established Hollywood star, but someone who would resemble the Indian freedom fighter, who preached non-violence.

Then Stone stumbled upon his lead star while watching “The Namesake”.

“I love Indian culture. I saw Kal shave his head and his great performance in a serious role. That pretty much sealed the deal for me.”, said Stone, whose movie JFK, also featured an elaborate assassination plot. MKG is set in the background of Gandhi’s assassination and the underlying sub plots.

Gandhi was shot to death by, Nathuram Godse, a hardline Hindu nationalist. But MKG focuses on a different angel.

Even though Gandhi fell victim to the bullets of a religious extremists, Oliver Stone’s movie alleges a deeper conspiracy, a political conspiracy, one in which other Indian leaders of that time, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and home minister, Vallabhai Patel, are shown as being involved.

The motive? Pakistan.

Says Stone, “Even members of the ruling party viewed Gandhi’s view for financial support to Pakistan as unfavorable. Nehru, on a personal note, was not happy with Gandhi having lectured him on an affair with a married woman (Mrs. Mountbatten).”

This angle predictably has come under sharp criticism in India where members of the Congress party are calling for a ban already.

“This movie depicts our great leaders in a bad light”, said Mr. Krishnan Iyer, M.B.A, M.M.S, M.S.C.S, D.D.L.J, a spokesman and up and coming member of the ruling Congress party. “We will oppose the release of this film both in India and USA. We will take director Oliver Stone to court.”

Surprisingly, members of both the ruling and opposition parties are up in arms.

“This movie depicts our Hindu religion and Indian culture in a bad light”, said Mr. Amar Prem, a spokesman and up and coming member of the opposition BJP party. The BJP is opposed to the assassination scene in particular where Stone alleges Gandhi did not utter the words “Hey Ram”. Ram is a popular Hindi god. “We will oppose the release of this film both in India and USA. We will take director Oliver Stone to court.”

Predictably, other desi stars are also expected to feature in this movie

The movie centers around a DM (district magistrate) in New Delhi who uncovers a deeper plot in the assassination of Gandhi. The protagonists roles is expected to be played by another Namesake star, Irrrrrrrrrfan Khan, and Bollywood megastar, Aishwarya Rai has been approached to play the role of Gandhi’s wife, Kasturba.

Kal Penn bats for Obama

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With the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama almost tied, Obama’s supporters are concentrating on the high school/college crowd to push them over the top and Kal Penn’s popularity in that demographic with flicks like “Harold and Kumar” is being touted as a selling point. [link]

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