03.15 sita sings the blues


sita sings the blues, a feature-length animated film and "the greatest break-up story ever told", is unique because it is:
a) set against the backdrop of the hindu legend of the ramayana
b) a mash-up of three distinct 2-d cartoon styles
c) soundtracked by annette hanshaw, a 1930's flapper and blues singer
d) all of the above

d you say? ding-ding! you got it!

i gotta hand it to nina paley, a cartoonist and the one-woman film-maker behind sita sings the blues. the reviews say it all: points for artistic direction, animation, plot, characters, costumes, music and ingenuity! some are offended by cartoon depictions of the sacred sita and rama singing and dancing and by the film 'zooming in' on a small piece of the ramayana told only from sita's perspective... totally understandable.

but i have to comment that the film got me interested in the epic of the ramayana (which until now had daunted me because of its complexity). i think this film opens up indian culture and the history and legends of the hindu religion to a whole new audience. and in a totally endearing way.

the indian-accented shadow puppets quibbling over facts of the legend of sita and rama are hilarious, and sita whimsically singing annette hanshaw's blues songs, including 'who's that knocking at my door' stole the show for me (yep, despite the fact that i generally hate musicals).

copyright restrictions are currently preventing the film from theatrical distribution... the only place to watch it is at a festival, or for most of us, online.

check out part one here (click on the HD button at the bottom to watch in hi-def):

all 10 parts here... enjoy!!


01.04 slumdog - serving up some india

i'm probably one of the last people i know to watch danny boyle and loveleen tandan's slumdog millionaire. for those who haven't seen it, there are hundreds of plot summaries online so i'll spare you.. i'm calling the film a 'classic underdog fairytale'. and don't get me wrong. the film is fantastic - but it ain't pretty.

the writers and directors have very courageously heated up the underdog fairytale formulas - creatively accomplished - and served them to us with heaping spoonfuls of spice and flavour. but when in india, how can any self-respecting filmmaker not? gory and glory alike, bombay and nearby locales like agra are captured in full colour, sounds and smell and taste even - from paan puri to outhouse excrement - all of which lift off screen right into your face.

even in the fairytale comes a moment of political poignancy: some food for the brain. i loved when dev patel (playing 16-year old jamal) is asked about a $100USD bill and leaning into a flashback he says, "it was when bombay turned into mumbai". how succinctly he manages to say that it's the US's turn to have it's way with india. brilliant dialogue.

but then we taste some cheese whipped up by whirlwind romance when the doe-eyed and loveable and latika (played by gorgeous freida pinto) asks jamal what they will live on if she runs away with him. he unflinchingly answers, "love". haha! but then again, it wouldn't be a classic fairytale otherwise, would it?

and yeah and there's some chicken soup for the soul, the film has its lessons in morality. when comparing to mirelles's city of god - another vivid and gritty coming-of-age film set in a massive slum, slumdog is a lead-by-example hero-in-the-making lesson, while city of god is a downward spiral of worst-case scenarios as seen through the lens of an aspiring photographer. both resonate well with young audiences through impeccable camera work and an ear-to-the-ground. we'll come back to the ear in a second... one of the lessons we learn is that greed can lead you down very dark paths. the other? when you want something that's good for you, go after it - the right way. but the road there even when laden with the truth - can be just as thorny as cheating, lying and stealing.

lastly, i have to comment on the likability of the film, not just for viewers in the english speaking world, but for indians alike. boyle sneaked a healthy 30% of hindi dialogue (promising producers only 10%) but it makes the film feel more realistic and likeable. apart from boyle much of the cast and crew are local - ranging from unknowns from the to very famous indian actors - and like city of god, the co-director is also a local woman. i'm interested in indians' reception. overall, i think the film delivers what most viewers long for - a believable plot, good acting, and solid direction that combine for a satisfying escape from daily reality. and it does - with much eloquence and style. one thing that is lacking however is the musical genre that indians love so much. one of the reasons i liked the film so much is that there are no spontaneous breaking out into song, except for when the credits roll (very stylishly done at that).

so that takes us back to the ear.... the soundtrack is phenomenal, with legend score-master a.r. raheman delivering a fast-paced musical pulse that matches the action of the slum underworld. m.i.a.'s tracks were a little distracting to me, but well suited to the film. i liked the stripped down version of her 'paper planes'. i would have loved to hear some nitin sawhney on the score but that's just me!

i am a little surprised that the film is being released in india so late (US release was november. the indian release, late january).

i have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of tech-savvy india has already seen it anyway via bootleg or online. or perhaps - with a film goliath like bollywood in their backyards - it's possible that slumdog could just get lost in the bolly-shuffle of 2009 releases. in any case, if you're hungry for a film that will deliver, slumdog satisfies.

[update jan 11 - slumdog won three golden globes tonight! best score (a.r. raheman), best screenplay (simon beaufoy) and... best film. really great way to recognize all who were involved with the film and pump up india for their theatrical release next week... congrats are in order!]

select scene from the film... enjoy!


12.15 9 is not 11 (september is not november)

i just listened to this interview with arundhati roy - the booker award winning author of the god of small things, as she talks about the situation in south asia.

it's refreshing to hear her explain that the recent violence and killings in mumbai and other areas are not a new phemomenon, and point to south asia's sad and gruesome history.

in addition, that the violence was not just restricted to two five star hotels, but that more causalties were found at the local railway station, victims of which were local, ordinary indians.

she goes on to explain that this is only the most recent of attacks, that there are several 'elephants in the room' that need to be addressed.

she says that to instill peace, that people need to stop blaming... once a 'culprit' is caught, another 2 are created. some of these face death sentences when there is no evidence to prove that they are behind the violence.

she goes on to urge the media to start showing signs of hope. and for us to confront the "monster in the mirror"... how true.

the interview starts at 12 minutes and 14 seconds:
democracynow.org - interview with arundhati roy on the situation in south asia
this interview opens in windows media player.

for other formats, please visit:

read roy's full article, 9 is not 11 (and september is not november), as published in the guardian uk (among other papers).


09.23 the swastika, a hijacked symbol

so i was reading some "fashion" blog this morning - rare for me - and came across a post blog called "zara swastika bag" that immediately caught my attention. as a girl who likes a good bag, i was a little excited to see it adorned with the ancient symbol of peace and prosperity.

i looked at the bag and noticed immediately the swastika symbol on the left side.

as i read the comments on the bag-blog, i recognize how the pain that the symbol would cause to jews in the west, where the bag was to be sold. but i was a little struck how nobody recognized that there are also hundreds of millions of indians, in particular hindus, buddhists, and jains live in the west as well. to this day, they still use the swastika for peace, prosperity and good luck.

in fact, the swastika was used all over the world, pre-dating christianity in europe, in native american tradition, and even as far back as the bronze age. only in the last 80 years has it come to mean something entirely different, all thanks to nazi propaganda.

but this "symbol hijacking" was no mistake. the nazis intentionally took an emblem that was used by non-germans on the most holy and celebratory occasions and turned it into an icon of racism and horror, obliterating or reversing its original meaning and turning the world against the people (evidently non-german people) who had been most known to use it in the first place.

in the west (and perhaps also among america-followers living in the east), the swastika's original beauty and true meaning will forever be marred by thoughts of the nazi regime, white supremacy, racism and the holocaust.

because of the commotion it caused - and to avoid the even more commotion it would have caused, zara, spanish retailer and the purchaser of the bag have pulled it before it hit stores.

chances are, the negative connotations of the swastika will be doomed to follow us for years to come.

ironically, the bag is kind of cute.


08.30 young, gifted and brown 6.0

wow i really needed a good laugh tonight.

i think i have that indian gene in me, the one that says, "vell, if yooou are feeeeling sad, then goh-to-the theeeatar and votch a filum!!!".

yeah, i seem to lose myself in youtube instead. i drown my sorrows in russell... he always comes through.


07.31 reintegration

i just found my old notebook from my trip to india... i wrote this while on my way back to canada... and reading it now just makes me want to go back!!

going to india was like removing the vaccuum seal.


off it goes... and you breathe. you expand. you feel something in the air.

india touches. it is absorbed.

india... once known, will never leave you.
it's the muslim call to prayer before even the sun wakes
the flash of a woman's eyes as she mentally chastizes you for baring your calves
the smoke billowing from an offering to a god of mythic proportion
the poverty in the streets, the desire to earn a decent living, the need to survive
the constant yearning for something more grand, more meaningful than what you've got

india is like an eternal movement....
all set to a bollywood film soundtrack

you can leave, but india never leaves you.


07.14 clickety-click, marriage trick

ok... so i haven't posted in a long time... but there are reasons...

i work hard and i play hard... and then there is the thing about all the indian weddings to attend. they are 4-5 days long each... mehendi parties, sangeets, chundadi and other ceremonies, the weddings themselves (and it's very common to have two, especially to satisfy both families if it's an interfaith wedding), and receptions... thinking back to december 13th in india (there were 36,000 weddings in dehli that day!!) many of them were arranged.

i have told this to people before (they may still think i'm nuts, but) to me, arranged marriages have a bad rep.

probably because they are confounded with "forced marriages", where parents choose a partner for their child based purely on family connections, caste, class, and social mobility created through the match. the match is usually made before the kids turn 10 years old! when it's time, they get married. no excuses.

conversely, the "arranged marriage" is a lot more civilized: the match uses the same selection criteria but the kids are introduced to each another, spend time together and ultimately get to choose whether to marry each other or to "veto" each other! there is some major pressure there, but who lives without pressure?!

when i tell you i'm ok with arranged marriages, most of you think i'm koo-koo. but to explain: the idea is for the parents to make the best possible connection in terms of security and family ties for the family, for their children and their futures. i understand that. and.... in my personal example, i get along with my parents! i like them. we don't always see eye to eye on everything. but i know, if we lived in a culture where arranged marriages were the norm, given the choice, my parents would choose very well for me.

of course, i say this, hoping they aren't reading this post! at least i hope not!!

check this out! if only it could be this simple!

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06.24 nelly doing lata

this was my favourite song when i was a kid. i'd sing it *everywhere*...
it was a highly popular song by lata mangeshkar (she and asha bhosle are sisters) - just ask any indian person on the planet born after 1970 and they will know it. ok, except for the dunce in the first row in this video.

nelly does it very well, despite mixing up "baanayaa" (created) with "bhulayaa" (forgot) and only knowing the first couple of lines.

kabhii kabhii mere dil mein
khayaal aata hai
ki jaise tujhko banaaya
gaya hai mere liyee

my attempt at rhyming while translating...
sometimes the feeling from my heart
crosses through my mind
that you have been created
to only be mine

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06.03 khadi - the fabric of freedom

eight minute film that is worth every second... slow start but picks up suddenly.

ancient knowledge always amazes me...

06.02 take me to your thumbi

there's a delay on the audio...


05.27 of tiffins & telecoms

here's a lil excerpt from an e-mail to patrick on 01.13:

i got a chance to chat with a lunch delivery man the other day. these guys are incredible - deliver like 10,000 lunches each day. they get all the orders straight too. could you imagine if you had that kinda service in north america?

the tiffin men were incredible. patrick tells me it's their six sigma rating (fast and efficient). they were studied by multinational courier companies, who couldn't replicate their service levels. what's also interesting is their business model. each tiffin delivery man and each tiffin assembly woman is a shareholder in the company. it's in each employee's best interest to be efficient and exact. let's see if ups or fedex can match that.

it's because of cheap labour, and a huge workforce of largely poor and hungry which that india has been catapulting onto the world stage for the past few years in terms of business reach. arrey! national pride is lost to the savings from offshore labour. i once called air "canada" customer service, to get "rose" (aka 'rosina' from india) on the other end... not so canadian after all, eh? even the organization i work for was using a consultant who wanted us to outsource our fundraising calls!! i read in the times in india that two of the world's biggest companies: walmart and airtel (the world's largest telecom company) were signing a partnership.

but this progress comes with downsides and risks.

the economic divide is widening too fast. i was in a downtown mumbai dessert place with abbas one night. they wouldn't let a woman come in because she looked poor... just one of many times i witnessed bad class action. in most circumstances, a paying customer is always welcome. now india's rich (many of whom are not even indian) are getting richer, while the rest are left to their own devices. beggars even have become choosers. they will often pass up food and just ask for money.

what is scarier is the potential risk. the amount of foreign investment in india is at an all-time high. meaning that a large and growing proportion of india's population is reliant on this foreign interest. but how long can this last? it's only a matter of time before india's workforce gets up to market, and when that happens, well all that foreign dough goes out the window and back home. leaving india's workforce in a lurch.

but for now the boom boom is india and india's where it's at.
check out the hindu business line article, in which jayati ghosh reports on the amount of foreign direct investment into india. the numbers speak to india's incredible labour force, from to tiffins to telecomms. oh, did i hear someone say re-colonialism??