New Series Trailers: Turn Up Charlie, Delhi Crime, & Ramy

Turn Up Charlie (Netflix) – This show is now streaming!

This show stars British actor Idris Elba; he worked as a DJ in London & NYC for years in his 20s & 30s.

Delhi Crime (Netflix): March 22nd

NYC-based writer/media critic Aseem Chhabra (who I’ve been following since 2005) posted re: this show on IG. He “loved the first two episodes,” which were directed by his Canadian friend (Richie Mehta). The cast includes Rasika Dugal (Bombay Talkies) and Shefali Shah (who some of you will recognize from her memorable co-starring role in Monsoon Wedding). The show focuses on the Nirbhaya rape case of Jyoti Singh. I’m guessing that most of the actors in this show are theater veterans.

Ramy (Hulu): April 19th

You may have seen Ramy Youssef’s stand-up before. In his 1st series, he plays a young man (NOT unlike himself) who is a first generation Egyptian-American exploring the challenges of being a Muslim in today’s world. His mother is played by internationally-acclaimed Israeli Arab actress, Hiam Abbass (The Visitor; Blade Runner 2049). Mo Amer (another stand-up comic) who is a Palestinian-American/refugee is part of the cast; he has a Netflix special (The Vagabond) that is funny and educational. Dave Merheje, a Canadian-Lebanese stand-up featured in Comedians of the World (Netflix), also has a role; he just won a Juno award this week. Indian-American actress Poorna Jagannathan (The Night Of; Gypsy) is also listed in IMDB for 3 eps; she is a friend of one of my writer friends (from my NYC days).

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Movie Trailers & Interviews (March 2019)

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (now on Netflix)Directorial debut of Chiwetel Ejiofor

A boy in Malawi helps his village by building a wind turbine after reading about them in a library book.

The Wedding Guest (in limited release March 1st) -Starring Dev Patel & Radhika Apte

Review from Vulture

Yardie (in limited release March 15th) – Directorial debut of Idris Elba

Set in ’70s Kingston and ’80s Hackney, Yardie centres on the life of a young Jamaican man named D (Aml Ameen), who has never fully recovered from the murder, committed during his childhood, of his older brother Jerry Dread (Everaldo Creary). D grows up under the wing of a Kingston Don and music producer named King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd). Fox dispatches him to London, where he reconnects with his childhood sweetheart, Yvonne (Shantol Jackson), and his daughter who he’s not seen since she was a baby. He also hooks up with a soundclash crew, called High Noon. But before he can be convinced to abandon his life of crime and follow “the righteous path”, he encounters the man who shot his brother 10 years earlier, and embarks on a bloody, explosive quest for retribution – a quest which brings him into conflict with vicious London gangster Rico (Stephen Graham). -Studiocanal

Need a Laugh? (Netflix Comedy Specials)

The Standups

S1: Fortune Feimster 

If you’re seen Chelsea Lately, you MAY have come across this unique comedian (Southern-raised, tall/plus-size, & lesbian). Feimster (who has MANY years as a stand-up_ parodied WH Press Sec. Sarah Huckabee Sanders on several eps of Chelsea Handler’s (Netflix) talk show. She has a V strong stage presence, her life stories are fresh (yet also east to relate to), and her delivery is confident. 

S2: Gina Yashere & Aparna Nancherla

Yashere (though now living w/ her partner in Brooklyn) is a proud British-Nigerian immigrant woman; she worked for MANY yrs as an engineer before becoming an actress/comedian. You may have seen her on some eps of Comedy Central’s At Midnight. “Hollywood didn’t know what to do w/ me,” the comic (now in her mid-40s) says at the opening of this V funny/smart set. FYI: Yashere lived in LA for a time several yrs ago; this could be seen as a comeback for her career. Her delivery is V strong and confident; she knows who she is and doesn’t pretend to be otherwise (which is probably why mainstream/Hollywood comedies wouldn’t suit). I think this comedian is TOO good for MOST of the roles out there for black women; Yashere knows it, too. On the stage, she is a MUST-SEE; maybe I can see her live one day! 

Nancherla MAY be familiar to some Gen X/Y-ers in the DMV area; she grew up in NoVA and started her career at open mics in DC (incl. SubDrift- I’ve been going in the last 3 yrs or so). I haven’t seen her in person, though have several acquaintances and pals who have; they are V proud of her success. Nancherla (who is in her mid-30s, BUT looks younger) might be best known as the ramen blogger on S2 of Master of None; she also wrote (along w/ Hari Kondabolu) for the TBS show Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell. Nancherla’s style and delivery are unique; she calls herself an introvert, awkward, and anxious. In the the last section of her routine, she utilizes PowerPoint (it’s V funny though). Unlike Kondabolu, her Indian heritage is NOT part of her comedy; this could be seen as a plus to some, a minus to others. Her comedy is V smart and unexpected, at times, making her a must-see!  

The Comedy Lineup

Ep. 1: Michelle Buteau

I’ve heard some (hilarious) interviews w/ Buteau on several podcasts over the last 2 yrs. She recently turned 40 and talks re: aging, relationships, and many universal topics. Some of the humor comes from her marriage to a Swedish (white) man, who sometimes doesn’t get the nuances of (black) American life. 

Ep. 5: Phil Wang

I’d NEVER heard of this 25 y.o. British-Chinese comedian before, BUT was V impressed by his routine! The big glasses are NOT for show- this guy is quite smart, observant, and socially aware.  I esp. liked his quick, self-deprecating delivery. An outsider in many nations, he uses a BIT of Mandarin (to poke fun at himself). Wang’s British (white) anthropologist mother traveled for work to Indonesia, where she learned that life could be a BIT rough. She decided to learn martial arts; her teacher was Chinese (Wang’s father). 

Ep. 6: Sabrina Jalees 

I’ve been following this Pakistani-Canadian actress/comedian for several yrs on social media (Twitter & YouTube). She is settled in NYC w/ her partner and their young baby (who she talks about in this routine). After she came out, Jalees was ostracized by some relatives on her Pakistani father’s side; however, things mended quickly (b/c they missed having her in the family). She is more confident, bold, and sure in her comedy (than what I recall from before). I hope to see more of her in the future; I think she has a LOT of potential. Jalees (who is in her early 30s) also dances and writes, aside from stand-up. 

Book Review: “American Dervish” by Ayad Akthar

Hayat Shah is a young American in love for the first time. His normal life of school, baseball, and video games had previously been distinguished only by his Pakistani heritage and by the frequent chill between his parents, who fight over things he is too young to understand. Then Mina arrives, and everything changes.

Mina is Hayat’s mother’s oldest friend from Pakistan. She is independent, beautiful and intelligent, and arrives on the Shah’s doorstep when her disastrous marriage in Pakistan disintegrates. Even Hayat’s skeptical father can’t deny the liveliness and happiness that accompanies Mina into their home. Her deep spirituality brings the family’s Muslim faith to life in a way that resonates with Hayat as nothing has before. Studying the Quran by Mina’s side and basking in the glow of her attention, he feels an entirely new purpose mingled with a growing infatuation for his teacher.

When Mina meets and begins dating a man, Hayat is confused by his feelings of betrayal. His growing passions, both spiritual and romantic, force him to question all that he has come to believe is true. Just as Mina finds happiness, Hayat is compelled to act — with devastating consequences for all those he loves most.

-Synopsis of the novel (Amazon)

As some of you know, I’m a V slow reader, BUT I managed to finish 75% of this novel (according to my Kindle)! I’ve been following this author for a few yrs now; in 2017, journo Bill Moyers said of Akthar: “We finally have a voice for our times.” One of my friends read American Dervish a few years ago; she didn’t recall ALL the details, BUT said that she’d never read something like this before. She passed it onto a friend, then that friend gave it to another. A newcomer to the book club said she also liked the book- subject matter and writing style. The moderator who read it 2 yrs ago said that this book goes into the issues faced by ABCDs (American Born Confused Desis), NOT only those particular to Muslims. 

WARNING: This post contains SPOILERS for the novel. 

NOTE: The following topics/questions (which my book club discussed) can be found here: https://www.bookbrowse.com/reading_guides/detail/index.cfm/book_number/2649/american-dervish

Do you think that one has to reject one identity in order to embrace another? What choice does Hayat make? What will the result be?

I think that children and adolescents (such as Hayat Shah, the protagnist/narrator) can often feel this way; my book club agreed w/ this comment. For Hayat, he identified as a Muslim, at least as a preteen boy. His goal was to be a hafiz (someone who knows the Quran by heart), though his father was dead set against this plan. Akthar said in several interviews that he was V interested in Islam as a child; he convinced his (secular) parents to take him to the local mosque and allow him to study the Quran. 

Hayat’s mother and father have a difficult relationship. In fact, all of the relationships between men and women in the book are complex, often troubled. What might the author be saying about such relationships within this culture?

Back in Pakistan, Mina’s first marriage turned sour b/c of her abusive mother-in-law. Her husband didn’t do anything to stop this, so Mina made the drastic decision to go to the US (w/ her son Imran). She couldn’t go back to her parents; they had urged her to stay w/ her husband’s family (she was rejected in her time of need).  

The newcomer to our group said that there were messed up power dynamics between Hayat’s parents; his mother (Muneer) didn’t have a job, so his father (Naveed) has all the money (thus the decision-making power). The ONLY relationship that was positive was between Hayat’s mom’s best friend, Mina, and his father’s friend/colleague, Nathan. They have an old-fashioned courtship, under the watchful eye of Muneer for about a year. This is a kind of fix-up, though based on mutual respect and admiration. Mina and Nathan talk re: books and ideas, share meals, and grow to love each other. When Hayat asks why they can’t be alone, his mother explains that Mina is a Pakistani woman, so “dating” is out of the question.

Hayat’s mother has grown angry and bitter b/c her husband drinks (secretly, he thinks) and cheats on her w/ white women. The women are possibly nurses at the hospital where Dr. Shah conducts research. Hayat’s mother, Muneer, refers to the other women as “mistresses” and “prostitutes.” Her view of white women is thus very negative, though she has a positive view of the Jewish people (incl. Nathan). In one scene, Muneer says that she’s raising Hayat “like a little Jew” (so that he’ll grow up to love and respect women).

Do you think it’s valid and/or authentic for male authors to write about feminist issues? What was your feeling about the portrayal of women in American Dervish?

Yes, someone can be “a male feminist,” my friend said quickly. Akthar said that he was inspired by the women in his life, incl. his own mother (a medical doc), his aunts, and various Pakistani immigrant women from the community of Milwaukee, WI (where he grew up). 

What are the different visions of Islam portrayed in the book?

Naveed (a man of science) has a contempt (perhaps even hatred) of Islam; this is echoed in Disgraced, where Amir even hides his origins. Naveed makes fun of Nathan when the younger man shows an interest in the religion. After Mina and Nathan’s break-up, he declares to his son that he “never wants to see you w/ that book [the Quran] ever again.” On the flip side, Mina wants to know more re: Islam; she studies and also teaches Hayat for a time. She is BOTH religious and spiritual, explaining to Hayat that it’s the “intention” of an action that counts. 

What did you think of the relationship between Islam and Judaism in the novel?

This is a tough one (IMO), b/c in this novel, these religions are put at odds w/ each other. Mina rejects Nathan (a cultural Jew) b/c he doesn’t want to convert to Islam. After all, he had a shocking/scary experience the one time he attended the masjid. Naveed warned him, BUT Nathan’s curiosity and love for Mina compelled him to give this religion a chance. Muneer, who had such high hopes for the pair, is disappointed when they don’t marry. She saw Nathan as a decent man and great choice for Mina, even though he was white and Jewish. I feel that Muneer wanted her friend to have a better life than herself. 

 

Big in Bollywood (2011) starring Omi Vaidya

How would it be like if the unassuming, humble, “boy-next-door” made it big in a Bollywood film? This is the premise of this doc (now streaming on Netflix) by former college friends of 27 y.o. Indian-American actor Omi Vaidya. Though he spoke very little Hindi, Omi was chosen by a famed producer (Vidhu Vinod Chopa), then a respected director (Rajkumar Hirani) to play a pivotal role in 3 Idiots (2009). The SoCal-raised actor, who attended UC Santa Cruz and NYU, is referred to as “the fourth idiot” during public appearances by co-star/superstar Aamir Khan. 

A few months after their wedding, Omi’s PhD student wife (Minal), his mom, and friends  join the actor for the 3 Idiots premiere. Minal has to return to school after only 2 weeks in Mumbai. The film was a box office success- the biggest grossing film in India up until that time. Omi notices people looking and wanting to talk to him (for the first time in his career). He gets honors due to his well-loved role, yet also notices the dark side of fame. 

Omi’s mother (Bharati- who once aspired to be an actress herself) and three friends (Bill, Kenny, and Kevin) attend the Star Film Awards ceremony. They’re full of enthusiasm and high hopes for Omi, though he is NOT quite certain about his dance number, or if he’ll win an award (being nominated for two). 

AFI showed this film last week, then there was a Q&A session w/ Omi. He and Minal are currently living in Rockville, MD with their toddler son and new baby. Minal is a post doc at NIH; she studied Biochemistry. Though his young family comes first, Omi is still acting in TV and movies. His next film (releasing in 2018) is starring Irrfan Khan. Omi was part of the ensemble cast of Netflix’s Brown Nation (a comedy series starring desi actors).