Category: A.W. Performers


I guess it just goes to prove that not even my six month blog drought is deep enough to withstand the charm of Naseeruddin Shah. For half of the summer and all of the fall, nothing on screen moved me enough to wade back into e-critiquing. So much for my plan of being a household name. But then, one weekday, my intrepid film-buddy Jessica and I went to see David Kaplan’s delightful film, Today’s Special and Voila! I am catapulted out of my literary lethargy by a knowing smile and a certain twinkle in the eye. Mr. Shah comes on the screen as a charming NYC cabbie with a heart of saffron, and within a few well-modulated words, has me punching Jessica in the arm (Sorry, Jess) and whispering “Isn’t he great!” as if the high school quarterback just smiled at me in the hallway.

This started out as a review of Today’s Special, but as it is now, unfortunately, out of most of our theaters and awaiting a much deserved appearance on DVD, I won’t be making much more than a token recap here. In what seems to be director David Kaplan’s first full-length feature, and writer/star Aasif Mandvi’s first filmed screenplay, the two spin a much more mature attempt at romantic dramedy than I would have anticipated. It’s a warm, sweet, leisurely-paced love fest of food, family and finding your gifts. Check out the trailer.

Aasif, who has a very familiar face from years of work in television, seems, at first to be an unlikely romantic hero, quiet and unassuming, and his character begins in a very tense emotional place, but you really grow to care about him throughout the film. As Samir, he’s a dedicated sous chef in a tony eatery in Manhattan who runs a tight ship, yet seems in a personal straight jacket, unable to find the key to break him out of his boss’ shadow. When he’s passed over, yet again, for a promotion, determined to make Fate find him, he up and quits, ostensibly to go off to Paris to polish his French cuisine. But Fate, in the form of his father’s tandoori restaurant back in Jackson Heights, has other ideas. Instead, it turns him reluctantly back towards home. To get there, he steps into the cab of my man Naseeruddin, eh, I mean, Akbar, who offers to help Samir find the perfect blend of masala spices to make a young chef’s dreams of success (and romance!) come true.

But unfortunately for Aasif, as he’s done in many films before, Naseeruddin Shah pulls all eyes to him with his understated suavity and Akbar’s sexy experienced attitude. It then becomes a bit “Samir, who?” after the door of that chili-bedecked taxi opens to us. But in Aasif’s defense, it’s nothing that he’s doing or not doing. Naseerji has been slowly gathering speed as he rolls along, role after role (some 160 now, according to IMDb), achieving some sort of gravitational pull of his own on our emotions…You just can’t look away. Example, a scene from Shekhar Kapur’s Masoom (1983).

Even in early films, in smaller roles, like Gohar Mirza of Umrao Jaan (1981), he added a jovial appreciation of Rekha’s obvious charms that said, “Of course she’ll notice me”. And we did. His wonderful portrayal of Gulfam Hassan, the Ghazal singer in Sarfarosh (1999) had so many layers and complexities that I felt like I was seeing more than one person. Amazing. As with many of our cinema heroes, the eighties and nineties threw many an odd film in Mr. Shah’s path, yet even in a goofy production like Tridev (1989), he could emerge relatively unscathed, with tongue firmly in cheek, even sporting a Crocodile Dundee hat with a red fluffy plume…no mean feat.

If I were theorizing, I’d say the secret must be that he takes each role not as a step in a body of work, but as a unique piece unto itself, and he tunes his performance to that center, true to the director’s ideas. The result being as varied as the films he chooses. How else could he do equal justice to the loving father of the bride in Monsoon Wedding (2001), the free spirited prisoner in Teen Deewarein (2003), the pot-addled sculptor in Being Cyrus (2005) and then galvanize a courtroom in Khuda Kay Liye (2007) as a Muslim seer with a truly holy outlook. It’s a gift.

Yes, I’ll admit as a reviewer, I’m biased. I can’t help responding to an always adroit line reading added to a large dollop of adorable. Like Akbar, Naseeruddin Shah always has all the right ingredients. Yes, I know my cinema fixation is over sixty…I say, “Who cares?” And also, I riposte, “Why don’t you tell Big B that he’s over the hill, while you’re at it!” Some men wear mileage like a very jaunty classic fedora which will never go out of style…here’s hoping someone similar tilts his brim my way. Keep them coming, Naseerji!

Reviewer’s Note:
Oh, I almost forgot…how could I??? As this blog is supposed to coordinate things I like with things you can enjoy in Washington, I am happy to announce Naseeruddin Shah’s theater company, Motley is coming to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts this March. The festival, Maximum India, is chock-full of wonderful artists, actors, dancers and musicians celebrating the vast and complex culture which is India. It runs from March 1st to March 20th. Motley Theatre Group is performing Ismat Apa Ke Naam celebrating the works of writer Ismat Khanum Chughtai on March 5th and 6th, for three performances. I’ve got my tickets; act quickly before they are gone. And Mirch Masala (1985) starring Smita Patil, Naseeruddin and Om Puri is showing on closing night! Here’s the schedule: Maximum India

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I can’t belive my bad luck! The first time, at least in my awareness of his work, that Sukhwinder Singh is in town with his own musical tour, and I’m scheduled to work! You may not know it, but this is an actual verifiable tragedy. Sukhwinder Singh is one of the most popular playback singers in current Hindi music, but more importantly, his voice hits me in a very elemental place which can often, though I have no idea what he is actually singing about (love, I’m assuming…given my involuntary heart palpitations) reduce me to an emotional state of romantic sticky-sweetness roughly the consistency of gulab jamun. Every time. Darn him.

You’d never know to look at him. Nice face, pleasant, even, but they don’t pay him to look good…they pay him to SING! And boy, does he deliver. In films, his voice often dubs in the singing voices for the most popular film heroes, sending all of their female fans over the edge of the Prem Kahani Abyss (Love Story Canyon, so to speak). How can a man who seems so wardrobe-challenged (no, I mean it, google his pictures… he’s gone through so many different looks on his search to look current and trendy that he may have lost his way completely…), how can he hold me (a costumer, no less) in complete thrall, just hearing a half dozen notes from his golden voice. Similar in effect to the rough-hewn tones of Nicholas Reyes, of Gipsy Kings fame, but perhaps more modulated, Sukhwinder sings as if he’s channeling the voice of Nature itself. Listen… Don’t ask me what’s going on the video, I have no idea who most of them are.

Sukhwinder has many wonderful songs out there to sample, the two most familiar to US audiences are the final song from Slumdog Millionaire, “Jai Ho”

and earlier, the very famous “Chaiyya Chaiyya” video from Mani Ratnam’s amazing film, Dil Se. Spike Lee liked the song so much he used it to bookend his film Inside Man. The vision dancing on top of the train is Shah Rukh Khan (and Mallaika Arora Khan, too, of course–no relation)

Though Sukhwinder can write and produce his own wonderful works, like Ghar Aja, above, some of my favorites are his collaborations, most notably with A.R. Rahman in Slumdog, Taal, Meenaxi and Lagaan but also with Vishal Bhardwaj whose film Omkara really showcases Sukhwinder’s voice. Here’s the most popular hit from it, the Beedi song. Actors: Bipasha Basu, Saif Ali Khan and Vivek Oberoi.

I’d list more links, but we’ll get Youtubed out. If you’d like more, check out the following links, just add the http://www. thing in front.

Nasha Hi Nasha Hai:
youtube.com/watch?v=I1M8ko3jOMc

Pyar Hota Hai:
youtube.com/watch?v=CeFbCTb5y1Q

Ramta Jogi:
youtube.com/watch?v=hBl7Ito6W7Q

And if you’re interested, go see his show at DAR Constution Hall on Saturday, May 8th…if I can’t be there maybe some of you can go for me. I’ll probably be the gulab jamun hanging out at the stage door with her ear stuck to it (Eh…actually, gulab jamun’s shouldn’t even have ears…What a visual…), if I can swing by after my show gets out. Darn that paycheck…don’t suppose I could call in sick?..No, Susie, I won’t. Tickets at, of course, http://www.JaiHoTickets.com.

UPDATE: I’m devastated…I bit the bullet, I bought a ticket to the event, even though I knew that I could only attend half the event. I went to work, alarmingly overdressed for theater work, yet still primarily in black. I looked great…or as great as they will ever see me at work (it takes a lot out of me, at this age, let me tell you!). I rush over to DAR, find a parking place alongside…now, that begins to worry me. No noise, no parking problems…all is not as it should be. I walk to the front entrance, dark as a tomb. I wandered around to the stage door and ring the buzzer. “That show was canceled this morning, ma’am.” What? When did that happen? I only bought my ticket three days before!

Sigh…so close, and yet, so far from my musical idol… I am needless to say, a bit perturbed. Online it looks as if the concert has been rescheduled, but no news is posted except the date, June 5th. Same venue. We’ll see if it all rings true. Gulab jamun, signing off for now.

This is going to be the first of a proposed series of A.W. recommendations for particular performers that you may or may not have heard of before. People who, for one talent or several, just scream for a wider audience and I’m going to do my small part to make you aware of them, if you’ll allow me.

“Hrithik Who?” I can hear you ask…And as most of India and the greater part of it’s diaspora is already well aware of Hrithik Roshan and his larger than life dance talents, I can speak directly to the unalerted of the American audience. Especially that part of it, like myself, who still yearn fervently and hopelessly for a current day Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire or Tommy Tune. Yes, I know these legends can’t really be touched, but the joy that they brought us should be constantly sought, reached toward, their images held up as an example for our current crop of poppers and lockers.

Indian films are, for me, where our musicals of the fifties and sixties went when they left us; left us, regretting our loss of innocence and the sweetness of young love. Audiences seem to feel ashamed of themselves to admit a craving for just these qualities, and now we have no expression for them here in the US except for in animated films. Well, in Hrithik Roshan (the H isn’t fully pronounced, just lightly brushed by) I have found my song and dance man of those older films, even given the lipsynching by another vocalist, obligatory in popular Indian cinema.

Though, he’s a young man, and it has only been ten years since he stunned the Hindi cinema world in his father’s film Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai (Say This is Love), Hrithik has starred in sixteen films with five more in the can or in production. And there doesn’t seem to be any let up in the desire for seeing him on screen or in live stage shows when he does them outside of India.

As far as I know, Hrithik doesn’t choreograph his own work, as Kelly and the others did, but works diligently to achieve an almost effortless fluidity and grace for choreographers like Farah Khan and Prabhu Deva. While Indian choreography may seem a bit unusual to the Hollywood tradition of partner dancing, it is from a rich tradition and can be very satisfying. Cinema dancing in India seems to draw more from a classical Indian dance tradition of soloists in front of back up dancers, emphasizing arm and hip work, rather than a traveling footwork style, as in western ballroom based styles that we are more familiar with.

And Hrithik, though he’s quite an eyeful, is not just a pretty face with gifted feet; in each film he has been seriously working on his acting craft, not always considered a necessary skill in a film industry almost exclusively built on a nepotistic tradition. In each film he takes on he tackles another challenge, whether it’s giving us the first successful Indian Sci Fi film Koi…Mil Gaya or tackling a lush historical romance like Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodhaa Akbar (both performances were awarded a Filmfare Award for Best Male Performance).

And throughout all of them, he’s given us the gift of his dancing, and seemingly maintained his own unruffled sweetness and an unexpected attitude of self-deprication. He’s a rare pleasure to watch, and I recommend that you take a gander at some of these video links, and perhaps rent or buy a few of them when you feel the need for that lightness of feet that lightens your heart.

Note: Blockbuster and Netflix both have many of his films available for rent, and to buy, I’d always go via Nehaflix.com (good prices, fast delivery and an fair return policy).

Some of my favorite Hrithik Roshan dances:
“Bole Chudiyaan” from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (with Kareena Kapoor, Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bachchan):

“Jab Dil Miley” from Yaadein (Memories) (also with Kareena):

The circus themed “Baware” from Luck by Chance:

“Dil Laga Na” from Dhoom 2 (with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan):

and my favorite, “Main Aisa Kyun Hoon” from Lakshya, as a young man who feels he never fits in: