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Hollywood Calling: Young Indians are finding opportunities to shine, on and off camera

It was a spontaneous, follow-the-heart decision for Roshan Sethi, a doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He took a break from his residency to write for the CBS show Code Black — a medical drama — and has co-created The Resident, another medical drama set to air on Fox from January 2018. Did it matter that he’s Indian by descent? Not anymore.

The past few years have yielded a plethora of opportunities for Indians in Hollywood, particularly onscreen. On top of the list are Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone. Also making waves on the festival circuit is Siddharth Dhananjay, an Indian student who bagged an acting and musical part in Geremy Jasper’s hip hop movie Patti Cake$, which screened at Sundance earlier this year. And these roles are not mandatory diversity picks; they’re reflecting an evolving industry as well as America’s ethnically varied social fabric.

Patti Cake$ actor Siddharth Dhananjay. Photo courtesy Facebook/@PattiCakesMovie

Patti Cake$ actor Siddharth Dhananjay. Photo courtesy Facebook/@PattiCakesMovie

This acceptance of diverse people in Hollywood extends to behind the screen as well, and aspiring Indian artists and students are making their presence felt. A crop of young writers, producers, directors, cinematographers, sound and animation artists, etc. are making a beeline for the West to make their cinematic dreams come true.

Take, for instance, 34-year-old Siddarth John, a senior pre-visualisation artist and lead animator based in Los Angeles. Armed with an MFA in Animation from Georgia’s Savannah College of Art and Design, John moved to Hollywood around four years ago and has racked up a stellar roster of projects. These include Thor: Ragnorak, Kong: Skull Island, The Martian, Ghostbusters and Pacific Rim Uprising. In fact, for Kong, he worked closely with director Jordan Vogt-Roberts.

“As long as you work hard there is nothing stopping you here,” says John. “I haven’t faced specific challenges as far as ethnicity goes, although it’s harder for people from other countries to work here because of visa challenges.”

Siddarth John

Siddarth John

Last year, America elected Donald Trump as its 45th President on a strong anti-immigration wave that has made life tougher for aspiring professionals from other countries looking to work there. This uncertainty extends to all visa categories although the H-1B is the most deeply affected, particularly pertaining to Indians.

“There is a constant anxiety of where we are heading that I am now forced to live with,” says Tanmay Chowdhary, a final-year graduate student at University of Southern California (USC). “With reforms to the H1 cap and immigration visas in the works, it is the most direct way I have felt political influence so far. I feel like I live in bubble at USC, which is a bit removed from this in a way.”

Chowdhary, 27, studied business at the undergraduate level at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign before following his dream of becoming a cinematographer. A Craftsman, a short he worked on, was nominated at Poland’s International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography Camerimage 2017, the world’s premier camerawork fest. Chowdhary’s Hollywood goals, though, lie more on the indie side.

“I do think opportunities for Indians are opening up in the US, especially with the current emphasis on diversity,” he says. “For me, the biggest difference between the Indian and American film industries is the work culture. I have been on a few sets in India and the most immediate difference I notice is the overall attitude of people towards one another. Plus, the exposure that film students get in the West is incredible. The connections you make really give you access to the international film scene.”

But, perhaps the greatest struggle for any young aspiring film professional in India, is content. Sonali Sundararaj, 26, kicked off her career as an associate producer for Star Vijay Television working on shows like Neengallum Vellalam Oru Kodi (Tamil version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?), Vijay Awards, and multiple finales of Super Singer and Jodi No 1. She moved to Los Angeles in 2015 to pursue ambitious projects that make a difference. “One of the major reasons people are moving westwards is because of freedom in content,” she says. “In India, creativity is suppressed. Independent film-makers are trying their best to put out new content, but their films struggle to make it to the screen. Even television in India is losing viewers as many are now switching to Netflix and Amazon Prime to watch American shows with more substance.”

Sonali Sundararaj; (R)Tanmay Chowdhary

Sonali Sundararaj; (R)Tanmay Chowdhary

And Sundararaj should know. She recently wrapped up her stint at FX’s critically acclaimed show, American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, and line-produced the American segment of S Shankar’s upcoming sci-fi movie 2.0 starring Rajinikanth and Akshay Kumar.

“The film industry in India is less open to experimentation and innovation,” says John. “People stick with the same routine scripts. This hasn’t given others who want to push the boundaries and make progress a good playing field.” Chowdhary too agrees. “I think there’s less freedom of expression through film. It is extremely difficult to express anything radical without having a ban imposed on your film.”

Being in the film industry anywhere in the world is no joke, and it isn’t that Hollywood is candyland where everything is perfect. The recent sexual abuse and harassment scandal has rocked the industry at its core, and there’s a certain upheaval in the air, what with people of diverse ethnicities, races and genders raising their voices against decades-old status quo. But, from a creative perspective, it is fertile ground where hard work, perseverance and talent pay off handsomely. That’s something Indian cinema should take note of.


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Diljit Dosanjh on picking projects in Hindi films: ‘Unlike in Punjab, I’m not in a position to choose roles in Bollywood’

A few years ago people would wonder whether a turbaned sikh guy could be a mainstream Bollywood hero but Diljit Dosanjh has put those doubts to rest. Not only is the singer-actor having back to back releases in Bollywood but is also being cast opposite A-list heroines. After making a promising debut and an earnest performance in Udta Punjab opposite Kareena Kapoor, he was seen with Anushka Sharma in Phillauri. In his upcoming release, Welcome To New York, he will be seen with Sonakshi Sinha and then with Taapsee Pannu in Soorma, a biopic on hockey player Sandeep Singh, which will hit the theatres in June. He is currently shooting with Kriti Sanon for Arjun Patiala.

Diljit Dosanjh. Image from Twitter/@diljitdosanjh

Diljit Dosanjh. Image from Twitter/@diljitdosanjh

Naturally, Diljit’s confidence has taken a boost. In his initial days, he would have probably wondered in self doubt when asked if there was a limitation to the kind of roles offered to him, but today he confidently states in a mix of Hindi and Punjabi, “Isn’t there a turbanator in every field? Sikhs are there in Navy, Army, the police force…there is no profession left where there is no sikh. So how can I have any such limitations?”

He further adds, “In the beginning when I started with music in Punjab and was keen on acting as well, people would dismiss me saying it wasn’t possible as no sikh had ever been seen as a Punjabi film hero and that I should be restricted to music. My first Punjabi film didn’t but I slowly started delivering hits, some of which even became top grossers. (Diljit has been appreciated for his versatile performances in Punjabi films like the Jatt & Juliet series, Punjab 1984 and Ambarsariya). Later, people said that I won’t be successful in Bollywood because I wear a turban, but my turban helped me get films here.”

Not easily accessible and also considered media-shy, Firstpost tracks him down on the sets of the singing reality show, Rising Star, where the jovial and happy go lucky jatt is the centre of attention. He is in the midst of young singers and some big names from the music industry – Shankar Mahadevan and Monali Thakur. Sporting a shiny yellow jacket and black turban, Diljit seems to be enjoying every bit of it. “I am enjoying both, acting as well as singing, I just wanted to do some good work which I am doing, let’s see where my life takes me. I enjoy each day of my life. Sometimes I have my mood swings but I still try to maintain a balance,” says the singing star, who candidly talks about his upcoming stage-show reality film, Welcome To New York which is based on an award show. “There are so many actors in it, and I, too, have a small part. But if you ask me the experience of doing the film, I really didn’t understand anything. I don’t know how they shot the film in so much chaos. I have no idea. It was difficult to shoot but I kept taking orders from the director and went on doing what I was told,” he laughs.

Known for his rustic charm and simplicity, Diljit might have a lot in the pipeline, but he isn’t someone who would succumb to stereotypes. He wants to do roles that are integral to the story. “I won’t do as many films now. It is just that I had lesser commitments and hence I can be seen in so many films. Last year I refused three to four films. If I don’t like anything I say no to it. Even in Punjab, I did just one film a year and I will follow the same in Bollywood provided I am offered one. I am in no hurry, no greed, as I am getting more than what I am capable of. I would like to use the remaining time on my singing and churn out more Punjabi films for my fans. I also have fans in the US, UK, Canada and I would like to continue doing stage shows for them. Whatever I have to say from my heart, I do it through Punjabi music,” he says without displaying an ounce of stardom.

“I enjoy making music more because there are no limitations as compared to movies. You have a team with who you gel and make music. But the film is not under your control. You listen to the story and script but what finally comes on the canvas could be different, whereas in music you can reject your own composition if you don’t like it and try something different. But films are huge projects; a lot of money is invested and directors have their own point of view,” he adds.

Secondly, Diljit says, he finds more freedom in the choice of movies back home. “I am not in a position to choose roles right now in Bollywood but in Punjabi films I have that choice. Producers are friends there but in Bollywood whatever is being offered I am taking up. My upcoming Punjabi film, Rangroot is on World War I which was something I was passionate about,” he says.

Considering the fact that Diljit never played any sport earlier in his life, one would expect the Shaad Ali-directed Soorma to be one of his most challenging roles of that of a hockey champion. Diljit says jokingly, “When I was a kid, I didn’t get the opportunity to play much sports as my parents would tell me to study. And now when I am getting paid to play so why not? (laughs) But I didn’t face any difficulty while shooting for Soorma. I didn’t have to do much training in the sport, I just had to play the game. I am very happy that in the second year of my acting career in Bollywood I got to do a biopic. Actually, I don’t find my work difficult. Just that when I am acting, I try to feel for the character I’m portraying but every take of mine tends to be different. I don’t treat myself as an actor who has a process, I perform with instinct.”

And even as Bollywood is showering love on him, Diljit prefers to meet people only for work as he doesn’t like “bothering people unnecessarily”. “I don’t stay in touch with industry folks much. I am here only to work. I never got work because of networking or meeting producers in parties. I don’t believe in PR,” signs off the endearing star.

Published Date: Feb 22, 2018 08:57 AM | Updated Date: Feb 22, 2018 08:57 AM


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The Joker origin film, directed by Todd Philips and produced by Martin Scorsese, to roll from 1 May

IANS

Feb,22 2018 09:29 23 IST

Los Angeles: Filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s untitled The Joker origin film is scheduled to start production in May.

Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Image courtesy: Facebook

Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Image courtesy: Facebook

The production house Tracking Board’s Jeff Sneider announced the news on social media. Sneider posted what appears to be a part of a press release which featured the project’s logline and listed a start date of 1 May, reports aceshowbiz.com.

The post, which was shared by him on Wednesday, also revealed the status of three-time Oscar-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix, who was recently revealed to be in talks with the studio for the role of the Clown Prince of Crime, as “interested”.

Sneider, however, wrote that the details are subject to change. Details on the upcoming Joker origin movie’s plot are currently unknown though the film is set in Gotham City in the early 1980s and has more of the look of a gritty crime drama than comic book movie.

It is also said that the film will be separate from the DC Extended Universe in an effort to create new and unique storylines.

Acclaimed filmmaker Scorsese will serve as a producer for the project. Todd Phillips is set to direct the standalone film from a script he co-wrote with Scott Silver. Release date has not been locked for the Joker stand-alone film yet.

Published Date: Feb 22, 2018 09:29 AM | Updated Date: Feb 22, 2018 09:29 AM

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‘Beyonce needs to auto-tune’, says TV host Wendy Williams; Twitterati roast her for remark

Los Angeles: American TV host Wendy Williams has faced backlash from fans for criticising singer-actress Beyonce Knowles and saying she needs auto-tune.

Beyonce. Image from Twitter.

Beyonce. Image from Twitter.

Williams criticised the singer on her show on Tuesday, where she said, “There are only a few people who can sing raw dog and Fergie is not one, she needs autotune. Jennifer Lopez needs autotune. Janet Jackson needs autotune. Beyonce needs auto-tune.”

Her remarks sparked rage on social media. While one user tweeted, “Wendy Williams, Beyonce has autotune where?”; another posted along with a clip of Beyonce flawlessly hitting high notes during a live performance.

Another shared a clip of the singer at a cappella performance of ‘Halo‘ and wrote, “Wendy Williams: ‘Beyonce needs auto-tune to sing.”

Beyoncé the ONLY!! And I repeat ONLY bitch we got that sounds better than her studio recordings live. And NO I DONT want to hear about your out of breath ass, throat surgery needing, can’t hold a note for dear life faves!!!! I SAID WHAT I FUCKING SAID!!!! pic.twitter.com/Dlw9VlKfRm

— 💎 (@KnowlesCarta) February 21, 2018

With inputs from IANS.

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