Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES Living NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES

Soulful Doc Algorithms Showcases Visually Impaired Indian Teen Champions

Three visually impaired teenage boys from India who play chess at the championship level are the subject of this slow-moving yet soulful documentary.

Anant, age 16, and Darpan, age 15, are totally blind, while the gregarious 12-year-old Sai is partially sighted. Filming in black-and-white, first-time filmmaker Ian McDonald tracks the boys over a three-year period, as they compete first in Blind Chess competitions in India, and, later, in matches in Sweden and Serbia. Algorithms doesn’t have a narrator, which suits the hushed intensity of the chess matches, where the players’ hands dart and dive with exquisite precision among the kings, rooks, and pawns.

Each child has devoted parents who’ve placed great trust in mentor Charudatta Jadhav, who went blind as a teenager, only to become a local chess legend. The depth of his obsession with creating an Indian world champion becomes clear in the film’s final third, when the boys compete in Greece.

Rather abruptly, McDonald lets Jadhav’s viewpoint take over the film, to the detriment of the three boys, whose fates, after the big match, we never learn. That’s frustrating, because the artistry with which they confront everyday life, as well as the chess board, is deeply moving.

Categories
ART ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES Living NYC ARCHIVES Theater

We Regret to Inform You That Tom Stoppard’s Indian Ink Is Indelible

Is there ever a good moment for a wistfully romantic look at colonialism? If so, this ain’t it. Tom Stoppard’s Indian Ink, now getting its New York premiere at the Roundabout, wants to inspire historical reveries by time-traveling between exotic 1930s India and nostalgic 1980s England. Instead the 1995 play mostly inspires indignation and fatigue.

Flora Crewe (Romola Garai), a spunky literary scenester from London, travels to pre-independence India to catch some healing rays. There she meets artist Nirad Das
(Firdous Bamji), and the two find artistic and romantic
communion: He paints her portrait; she writes sweaty, sun-drenched poetry. Between segments of Flora’s tale, we scoot forward to the present day to watch her now-elderly sister (Rosemary Harris) parse Flora’s legacy alongside Das’s son and an enthusiastic Crewe scholar.

There’s a reason this play isn’t performed as often as other Stoppard works. India in the 1930s offers rich dramatic terrain, but Indian Ink focuses on gooey encounters between Flora and Das, surrounding them with charming locals and platitudes about art. Stoppard’s characteristic wit is overwhelmed by the historical crimes of colonialism, and he has written on similar themes — art and life, love and history — elsewhere, with more self-awareness. After almost three hours in Stoppard’s India, you’lI be eager for your own
independence.

Categories
Living Neighborhoods NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY

A big country with a rich cultural history, India keeps its traditions alive while creating environments for innovating into the future. Drive East, an annual festival of South Asian music and dance, is produced by the midtown-based Navatman, which aims to create a sustainable home in the metropolitan area for classical forms. In an intimate East Village space, at multiple shows nightly, you can commune with expert practitioners of dance forms both familiar and rare, including Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Sattriya, and Chhau; listen to diverse music including a jam by an Afro-Indian fusion ensemble, and encounter experiments by participants in a new collaborative residency.

Mondays-Sundays, 6 p.m. Starts: Aug. 11. Continues through Aug. 17, 2014

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events Listings Living MUSIC ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Theater VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

INDIAN SUMMER

In Indian music, a jugalbandi (Hindi for “entwined twins”) signifies two solo musicians performing together as equals, trading songs and improvising. The first American appearance by Shubha Mudgal and Bombay Jayashri, who’ve been getting rave reviews across the pond, also marks a meeting of India’s two classical traditions: the northern Hindustani and southern Carnatic styles, respectively. You may already have heard Jayashri: She sang “Pi’s Lullaby” which played over Life of Pi’s credits, but is better known as part of a new wave of young Carnatic specialists. Mudgal, who has been performing classical music since the 1980s, is one of India’s most recognized vocalists. Embar Kannan (violin), Aneesh Pradhan (tabla), J. Vaidhyanathan (double-headed mridangam drum), and Sudhir Nayak (harmonium) accompany, and should bring plenty to the party themselves.

Sat., May 31, 7:30 p.m., 2014

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events FILM ARCHIVES Listings Living NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

BYE-BYE BOLLYWOOD

Catch new South Asian cinema If you think movies from India are all packaged in Bollywood fluff, the 10th Annual South Asian International Film Festival, presented by HBO, will surely prove you wrong. The fest opens with Amit Kumar’s Monsoon Shootout, in which a rookie cop must weigh the consequences before pulling the trigger. Other highlights include Good Morning, Karachi, Sabiha Sumar’s movie about a rising model who is caught between tradition and the fashion industry, and Gyan Correa’s The Good Road, India’s official entry to the Oscars.

Tue., Dec. 3, noon, 2013

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook FILM ARCHIVES Listings Living NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Theater TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES

Blood Brother Plays Out as Another Narcissistic Travelogue

Western literature is filled with novels, memoirs, and travelogues by and about white men who, seeking adventure or a deeper sense of self, travel the world to some exotic endpoint filled with dusky people who impart spiritual wisdom and share cultural practices that deliver each white man to a more “authentic” version of himself.

He, of course, positions himself—and is celebrated as—the dusky people’s champion and savior. The documentary Blood Brother is the 21st-century hipster remix of this time-honored narrative.

A Sundance Film Festival hit (of course), Blood tracks the journey of twentysomething Pittsburgh native and graphic designer Rocky Braat who, while working in India, stumbled over a home for children with HIV/AIDS and knew he’d found his home and calling. The film, directed by Braat’s longtime friend Steve Hoover (who shot it with a golden-hued vibrancy that makes even poverty look like a blessing), tracks our hero as he doles out medicine, teaches the kids English, leads sing-alongs, roughhouses with his charges, and leads them in chants of “I was always beautiful.”

There are lots of images of him looking forlornly into the camera or off into the distance when he’s not gushing inanities about the spiritual and cultural superiority of his new home. Neither the film nor Braat gives any political, cultural, or historical context or analysis of anything shown onscreen—poverty, beauty, illness. While Braat isn’t the Ugly American, he is its obnoxious cousin, the Clueless Yank. It’s not until late in the film that he bothers to put the home in the context of the larger village that houses it, and that’s only because of the villagers’ bigoted response upon learning that the kids have HIV/AIDS. (Their reaction is appropriately denounced by Braat, but the film tells nothing of how or if the tensions are resolved.)

There are undoubtedly several moving moments in the film, and the kids are gorgeous and heartbreaking, but none of that is strong enough to balance Braat’s galling and enabled narcissism, which pervades the film.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events Listings Living NYC ARCHIVES Theater VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Kiran Ahluwalia

The Indo-Canadian’s latest album, Aam Zameen: Common Ground, reaches out to the Islamic qawwali music of Pakistan with the help of a couple of North African desert blues groups and complements her gorgeous ghazals beautifully. Tonight’s band includes Nitin Mitta (tabla), Will Holshouser (accordion), Mamadou Ba (bass), and Rez Abassi, a restless guitarist who adds a sci-fi dimension to his wife’s singing.

Sat., June 8, 7:30 p.m., 2013

Categories
Bars CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events Living MUSIC ARCHIVES NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Red Baraat

The thunderous local drums-and-brass ensemble presents its second annual Festival of Colors. Led by Sunny Jain, whose double-headed dhol drum serves as its heartbeat, Red Baraat expands India’s wedding-band template into a more inclusively throbbing caterwaul evocative of joyous brass-band cultures from New Orleans to the Balkans but with a Bollywood bent. India-raised Vandana Jain plays experimental synth-pop, and the Parijat Desai Dance Company brings its blend of Indian classical and Western contemporary dance.

Fri., March 29, 6 p.m., 2013

Categories
Living NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

STRIKE A POSE

Originating in ancient India, yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual discipline accessible to just about everyone. Last year, Yoga Journal estimated that in the U.S., 20.4 million—almost 9 percent of American adults—participated, a whopping 30 percent increase in the past four years. Today, the National Asana Yoga Championship will be here for its 10th annual event. (Asana is defined as “seated in a position that is firm, but relaxed” for extended times, but that’s just the beginning for these yogis.) A total possible 80-point scoring system takes into account, among other factors, technical precision, physical presentation, and timing as competitors complete seven postures in three minutes. This is more than a display of expert skill, it’s a testimony to how much participants from beginners (there are no entry requirements for the finals) to masters love yoga. If you haven’t tried it, you will after watching these fascinating rounds.

Fri., March 1, 10 a.m.; Sat., March 2, 10 a.m.; Sun., March 3, 10 a.m., 2013

Categories
FOOD ARCHIVES Living NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES

Heaven for Eggheads at Chennai Flavors

Ever seen eggs as the center of attention anywhere but a diner?

Well, they’re also the star at Chennai Flavors, which debuted recently in Jersey City just north of Journal Square. Although you might have previously encountered a lonely boiled egg plunged in chicken curry at a Pakistani or Punjabi spot, ova are everywhere at this South Indian café. From the menu section Egg Classic, check out podimas ($4.99), a cilantro-laced yellow scramble modified with a mild masala. Scrumptious and comforting. Elsewhere on the menu, find kottu paratha, a toss of shredded flatbreads and fried egg tidbits—it’s the South Asian answer to Mexican chilaquiles. There’s a rubbery omelet, too, flat as a 100-rupee banknote. Chennai Flavors even plasters a fried egg on its logo, flames shooting out the top.

The restaurant sits on a three-block stretch of Newark Avenue that slopes alarmingly toward the Meadowlands, making a visit feel like an Alpine hike. Sometimes known as Little India, this street hosts groceries, paan parlors, sari stores, sweet shops, gold-dowry jewelers, and 20 restaurants. Chennai Flavors—named after the city once called Madras—is typical of the regional South Indian restaurants that have been popping up recently. A few months ago, I reviewed Deccan Spice just up the block, which offers the cuisine of Hyderabad, a city 300 miles from Chennai.

Little India’s restaurants throng with shoppers on weekend afternoons, but are half-empty other times, so even a party of two can command a deluxe upholstered booth in one of Chennai Flavors’ tandem dining rooms, both filled with red lacquered furniture and refreshingly underdecorated. Nearly everything on the menu is cooked to order, so be prepared to wait. Video screens showing Bollywood movies will help distract you from hunger. The menu doesn’t so much reflect the unique regional dishes of Chennai as the entire culinary range one might see at a restaurant there. This welter includes dosas and uttapams, mutton and chicken curries, smoky tandoori roasts, seafood swimming in coconut milk, a smattering of Indo-Chinese standards, and the Mughal vegetarian fare usually associated with northern India.

Although a pair of places down the block specialize in dosas—the crepes made from fermented rice-and-lentil batter—and offer dozens of different ones, Chennai Flavors produces a “greatest hits” selection. All are of impressive dimensions, including the Mysore masala dosa ($5.95), which hides a fiery spice rub on the inside of the crunchy pancake. The mild potato filling serves as something of an antidote. If you’re tired of regular dosas, dig into a rava dosa: Made from cream of wheat, the wrapper develops a lacy texture. There are dosas to avoid, too, including a pizza dosa made with bottled marinara and pre-grated supermarket mozzarella to lure kids who would normally reject the Indian food their parents love.

While Deccan Spice specializes in wonderful biryanis, those at Chennai Flavor are lackluster. But anything featuring mutton on the menu is fab (though the bill of fare seems to use “goat” and “mutton” interchangeably). Described as a dry curry, mutton varuval ($12.99) is actually damp—bone-in pieces of meat in a dark, thick sauce swaddled in caramelized onions. Dry? It simply lacks the surfeit of meal-extending gravy found in most curries. Another Chennai corker, suggesting the bounty of the warm South Asian Sea, is crab masala ($13.99). The bright, turmeric-driven gravy—flavored with curry leaves, black mustard seeds, and coconut milk—is crustacean killer with no filler. Outside Maryland, you’ve probably never eaten so much crab in a single sitting.

Hopscotching around the menu, I can recommend coconut uttapam, a spongy flatbread enfolding shards of coconut meat. Also dig Chettinad pepper chicken, a dish associated with a long-forgotten ethnic group called the Chettinars, but now secret code among Indian diners for blow-the-top-of-your-head-off spiciness. Other chicken dishes such as butter chicken and tikka masala are made with boneless breast meat, so skip ’em.

If you’re in a poultry mood, why not eat more eggs? Chennai egg masala ($6.99) deposits the hard-boiled article in a creamy beige sauce with enough garlic to get you booted off OkCupid. But how to proceed, since you can’t put a whole egg in your mouth all at once? Pulverize it, so that each fragment becomes thickly coated with sauce, then pick up bites with a folded flatbread, say garlic naan ($4.95), to further ramp up the pungent flavor. And then lean back and digest as the Bollywood actors kick energetically across the TV screen.