Tag Archives: South-Asians

“Faiza Butt in ‘The State of Things: Recent Art from Pakistan'”

Click here to read Kavita Ramdya’s review of Faiza Butt’s show at the Aicon Gallery London, “The State of Things: Recent Art from Pakistan”, in the February 2010 issue of “Modern Art Asia“.

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“Faiza Butt in ‘The State of Things: Recent Art from Pakistan'” by Kavita Ramdya (Issue 2, February 2010 of Harvard University’s “Modern Art Asia”

Faiza Butt is obviously well-versed in talking about her work. She has done it countless times, breathless and quick, at ease yet also distant. Not once in the evening we spend together at the show or at a café afterwards where we continue our “conversation” does she let herself look me in the eye. It seems she has saved her gaze for her canvas.

In The State of Things: Recent Art from Pakistan at Aicon, Butt’s paintings are distinct from those of her peers’ for their focus on the feminine: children playing, turkey dinners and kitchencleaning supplies. Clearly her role as a mother and wife inform her work. Tellingly, in both our phone calls prior to our meeting I could hear the voices of laughing children in the background. I later learned that her marriage to an English national and role as a mother inspire an autobiographical flavour in her work, as does her youth growing up in a matriarchal family with five sisters.

Born and raised in Lahore, Butt spent a few years teaching in South Africa before attending London’s Slade School of Fine Arts, her first time living in Europe. In East London, she began what she describes as “a crash course in learning the fabric of society”. Here Butt started painting canvases that spoke to her “feminine” concerns but with a politicized and global perspective.

Ironically, two of her three works on show at Aicon Gallery are of hyper-masculinized, fundamentalist Muslim men and yet the feminist concerns which have inspired Butt are loud and clear. Two tales of Whopped Fantasies, a series nspired by the photorealism of Gerard Richter’s work, are two separate realist paintings of traditional Muslim men. The viewer is forced to scan the canvases horizontally due to the visible and linear color lines that layer the subjects. This linear repeated linear pattern is meant to replicate the movement of a printing press, she tells me. In addition to the linear
swathes of pastoral colors that sweep Butt’s canvases, the “western, edible beauty” which each man carries (one wearing plastic, yellow cleaning gloves while holding a cake decorated with a generous amount of frosting and the other proudly presenting a traditional Sunday roast) points straight away to the artist’s original concerns: fitting gender expectations to cultural and religious traditions and making them compatible though they may in reality be polar opposites.

The two portraits are humorously paradoxical through their fusion of religious images with secular values. One the one hand, they wear old-fashioned clothing, but on the other hand they carry opulently-decorated Western dishes as a result of engaging in what is traditionally deemed ‘women’s work’. The contrast is inspired by Butt’s identity as a Pakistani-Muslim woman who married an Englishman and faced the pressures of integrating into an English, Christian family. The image of a Muslim man humbly yet eagerly offering his Sunday roast to the viewer, presumably after many
hours of slaving over a hot oven, expresses Butt’s own personal story in trying to win over her in-laws
and the cultural and religious sacrifices she made along the way.

Butt’s art work and biography remind us that some stories, like one of a woman trying to win over her inlaws by attempting to recreate their seductively succulent cuisine, are universal. Her work is refreshing in its appeal to the most petty yet powerful conflicts young wives all over the world face as a metaphor for the changes that occur with globalization.

About Aicon

Faiza Butt’s works showed at the Aicon Gallery, London until January 9th. The Aicon Gallery is the best place in Europe to view and learn about contemporary Indian art. The gallery, formerly known as Gallery ArtsIndia, originated in the United States, where it began as an online gallery of contemporary Indian art before opening the New York (2002)
and Palo Alto (2004) gallery spaces. After exhibiting the works of established artists such as Laxma Goud, F.N. Souza and M.F. Husain, Aicon has collaborated with such artistic institutions as Tate Britain, the San Francisco Asian Art Museum and the Peabody Essex Museum. On both sides of the Atlantic, Aicon Gallery is noted for its mission of promoting contemporary Indian art.

The London gallery opened in 2006 to serve as a “launch pad for Indian art in the capital” and showcases the works of radical and experimental artists rather than the Indian Modernists whose work is most commonly shown in the Aicon New York gallery. Located in a swanky part of town, off Regent’s Street, Aicon Gallery London is a cultural refuge amongst high-end stores and restaurants where people dine to be seen. As an Indian-American Hindu who moved to London almost four years ago, I remain amazed at the city’s established and well developed South Asian cultural scene.

Kavita Ramdya received her PhD from Boston University. She is author of “Bollywood Weddings: Dating,
Engagement and Marriage in Hindu America”, visit www.bollywood-weddings.com

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“An Alien Artist” (profile of Saad Quereshi)

A few weeks ago I attended the opening of Saad Quereshi’s group show at Aicon Gallery London. Saad is a young, Pakistani-English artist whose highly-conceptual work is both rigorous and well crafted. He was extremely grateful for his parents’ support of him pursuing a career in art which I found endearing.

Click here to read Kavita Ramdya’s article “An Alien Artist”, a profile of artist Saad Quereshi.

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“News India Times” November 20, 2009

“An Alien Artist” by Kavita Ramdya

Saad Qureshi is easy to pick out in a crowd. At “Wound”, an Aicon Gallery group show, Saad sticks out: he wears immaculately-white high-top sneakers two sizes too big for his feet. Saad’s sneakers are the discerning feature of his “artist costume”, an outfit that must have taken him a week of internal to-ing and fro-ing plus phone conversations with friends for him to pull together. He wears the multiple layers indicative of his current status as an art graduate student at University College London’s Slade School of Fine Art including a white shirt, red tie, purple cardigan and black jacket. His hair is tussled and he isn’t clean shaven, giving him the appearance of looking disoriented from having just left his art studio for the first time in days.

The young Pakistani artist furtively scans the gallery while speaking to friends, family and associates, giving the feeling that he is half present in all his conversations. However, when speaking with him, I have his full attention. What I quickly realize is that for all his posturing as iconoclast, he is not immune to the guilt young South Asians feel over rejecting more practical vocational choices (e.g. law, medicine, business) for embarking on a creative career as an artist. Saad describes how his parents, although initially unsupportive of his artistic interests, started to come around when his school teacher, Mrs. Robinson, explained to them that Saad was a “chosen one”. Now, he continues, his “parents are 200% behind me” and “would do anything to help me in my career”. Saad’s parents surface again and again, so much so that I begin to feel like I am his shrink rather than an Arts Op-Ed columnist. Alternatively, and I wouldn’t put it past Saad whose youth is a powerful cover-up for his shrewdness, he may be planting material on me that he knows a South-Asian reading audience subscribing to “News India Times” would find endearing.

Saad Qureshi, despite his formulaic style and earnest concern for his parents’ approval, is an exceptional conceptual artist. Not only is his work well-crafted and of the highest standard of quality, but its themes and concerns are relevant and timely. When he tells me that he works constantly and needs to be coerced into leaving the 24-hour art studio to eat and sleep, I am not surprised. His work is the conceptualisation of issues of immigration, terrorism, and victimhood, all as current as the daily e-mail alerts I receive from the “New York Times” and “Washington Post”.

Qureshi has two qualities that will stand him in good stead as he moves forward in his career. First, he is prolific. Second, his work is a response to his personal experiences as a young Pakistani growing up in the suburbs. However, these personal themes reverberate on a global scale: the alienation and marginalization he captures in his sculptures and on the canvas also speak to the current political climate with regard to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the proliferation of racism.

Jagroop Mehta, the gallery’s Sales Associate, explains how a collection of black, life-sized alien figure sculptures symbolize marginalized societies. On a more personal level, the black sculptures refer to the artist’s adolescence while living in the suburbs, where he felt like an outsider. When I ask Qureshi about his tribe-of-aliens sculptures, he refers to Frantz Fanon, a black, mid-twentieth-century French post-colonial philosopher whose writing serves as the intellectual backbone in Qureshi’s own work. Fanon discusses how the “other” is only a different version of oneself. After learning the intellectual underpinning of Qureshi’s work, I silently applauded his ability to inspire repulsion and intrigue in the viewers of his sculpture collection. He successfully mirrors the viewer’s own grotesqueness by drawing his or her attention to the quality of the “other” in his works.

In addition to the alien-like sculptures, a collection of Qureshi’s “edge paintings” are in the show. From a distance, the pieces look like fresh, egg-white canvases waiting for the artist’s attention. However, upon closer viewing, Qureshi has meticulously painted, drawn, and “scrap-booked” in marginalized figures on the edges, where the canvas bunches up and threatens to be overlooked rather than on the smooth, white, fresh surface. The scrap-book nature of the canvas’ edges is a result of Qureshi’s use of multi- media. Along with drawing and painting on the canvas’ edges, he also utilizes photographs and currency to convey concepts around “the other”.

When asked why he refrained from utilizing the medium of the canvas in a traditional way, Qureshi describes his frustration with painting: “I felt restricted, like painting was a limited medium… I discovered the edge of the canvas instead.” He goes on to describe his images threaten to “slip off the canvas” and Qureshi’s role as the artist is to “catch these images before they fall into oblivion”. Niru Ratnam, the gallery’s curator, describes how despite Qureshi’s age (he is not yet twenty-four years old), the artist’s installation works “are conceptually very well developed”. The use of Fanon and Qureshi’s ability to discuss his work on a theoretical level are testaments of the thought process he puts into his art.

Ivan, an art student enrolled in the same program Qureshi is finishing his studies, rejects the notion that his friend is a painter. Instead, Ivan describes Qureshi as a “designer” who “arranges things”, designing canvases like Tom Ford would “designer jeans”. Although on the face of it, Ivan’s comments might seem unfriendly, in the context of looking at Qureshi’s painstakingly-detailed work, one quickly realizes how much of his art is based on the conscientious placement of details.

Clearly a workaholic, Qureshi is managing well during a defining moment in his young career. Currently his work is showing in a well-respected gallery while he is still completing the final year of his Master’s degree. Finally he has just finished filming what I am guessing is a reality television show on BBC2. Throughout the private viewing of “Wound”, my ears pricked when scattered associates referred to a television production of some sort which incorporates various young artists including Qureshi. The production is not meant to be public, but then artists are not known for their ability to keep secrets.

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“An Indian in Paris” by Kavita Ramdya (Sakti Burman at Aicon Gallery London)

Click here to read Kavita Ramdya’s profile of artist Sakti Burman and a review of his show at the Aicon Gallery London.

A few weeks ago I discovered Aicon Gallery, a space completely devoted to promoting Modernist and contemporary Indian art. I must confess that the exhibits at Aicon Gallery are a welcome change from the typical South-Asian shows in London. In mainstream museums, art of the Indian subcontinent is typically focused on Mughal/North Indian royal paintings, so much so that one wonders if any art was produced by Indian nationals after the British Empire extended its reach into India. Sakti Burman surprised me with his friendly approach and frankness in admitting that he is inspired by French Impressionist art. Thank goodness the Aicon Gallery exists to show that there is a community of artists in India producting contemporary and modernist art.

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News India Times October 2, 2009

“An Indian in Paris” by Kavita Ramdya

If you’re a second-generation Indian American like me, you probably grew up hearing “Well, you know the concept of zero originated in India!” or “The Crown Jewels are all originally from India!” Only good things came out of India – family values, royal jewels, mathematical and scientific concepts, art. So you can imagine my shock meeting Modernist Indian artist Sakti Burman who openly and enthusiastically admitted that he and his contemporaries were inspired by “tremendous” French Impressionists such as Renoir and Monet. Born and raised in India, he “dreamed of moving to Paris.” More than 50 years after moving to Paris as a graduate art student, he continues to live and work in the City of Lights.

I met Burman at the Aicon Gallery London, the best place in Europe to view and learn about contemporary Indian art. The London gallery opened in 2006 to serve as a “launch pad for Indian art in the capital” and showcase the works of radical and experimental artists rather than the Indian Modernists whose work is most commonly shown in the Aicon New York gallery.

Located in a swanky part of town, right off of Regent’s Street, Aicon Gallery London is a cultural refuge amongst high-end stores such as Burberry and Ralph Lauren and restaurants where people dine to be seen. As an Indian-American Hindu who moved to London almost four years ago, I remain amazed at the city’s established and well developed South Asian cultural scene… the hip and friendly South Asians I’ve met who comprise the South-Asian art community.

I attended the gallery’s private viewing of “Archetype: Two Solo Exhibitions by Ashish Avikunthak and Sakti Burman”. Avikunthak, whose sole piece on display is an 18-minute film about three girlfriends in India, is a “contemporary” artist whereas Burman, who had a dozen paintings on display, is considered a “modernist.”

Niru Ratnam, the gallery’s hip (as denoted by his beatnik glasses) and friendly director who also works as a curator of Indian art, explained to me how Burman’s works include “Indian iconography in the style of Italian mural art.” Jagroop Mehta, an equally hip (as denoted by her unapologetically orange dress) and friendly sales associate, distinguished between the two artists’ works: Whereas Avikunthak’s film symbolizes “contemporary” art, it has been inspired and informed by “modernist” works created by the likes of Burman. The show is meant to “marry modern and contemporary” art, Mehta continued, and inform people about the “history of Indian art in the West.”

Burman stands out in a crowd. He is a diminutive man with little hair, but he has an aura of energy that emanates in a crowded room. I was struck with how he always appears to be moving, even while standing in a group and talking about his work. I found him refreshingly earnest, and was completely taken aback by his friendliness and humility.

Friendly demeanor aside, what I loved about Burman’s art was not only the Western aesthetic (a pastel color palette and the juxtaposition of Hindu gods with ordinary people) but also his disarming charm when he spoke about how his work is informed by iconic European artists, painters whose countries were only tribal groups during the days when India was a set of scattered kingdoms ruled by maharajas. Talking to Burman reminded me that, as in literature, no art is created in a vacuum.

What captured my initial attention was Burman’s use of mythological figures in his paintings: Hindu religious characters are central in his works. Hanuman, Ganesha and Shiva function as the sun around which secondary characters and objects revolve on the fringes of the canvas. However, their dream-like qualities instigate questions about Freudian and Jungian concerns rather than spiritual ones.

The use of a pastel color palette and creating highly-textured canvas recall a European Modernist aesthetic and Italian fresco style. When I asked Burman about it, he freely admitted that while French Impressionism lured him to Paris, it is “Marc Chagall’s works in conjunction with the Ajanta murals” which inspire his paintings.

After completing his art education in Paris, Burman tried his hand at having an art career in India. However, when he realized he couldn’t sell his work, he returned to Paris where, he tells me, “I thought I might succeed… It is a not an easy job”. Of course, Burman is not the first artist to flee to Paris to establish himself as an artist. Following World War I, African-American musicians settled in the capital where their music and identity were embraced rather than rejected.

In writing about contemporary Indian-ethnic culture, I have picked up on a trend. I recently wrote about Nina Paley’s “Sita Sings the Blues”, a film that re-imagines the myth of Sita and Rama through Sita’s perspective.

Likewise, in Burman’s art, he presents Hindu mythological figures with a European Modernist sensibility, another twist on East-meets-West. A successful Indian artist in Paris, Burman’s work is an experiment in incubating ideas about Hindu mythology in a tandoori oven filled with European scents and spices. I wonder what other examples of fusion art and culture will come my way in exploring popular South Asian culture in London.

Aicon Gallery, New York

Aicon Gallery, formerly known as Gallery ArtsIndia, originates in the United States, where it began as an online gallery of contemporary Indian art before opening the New York (2002) and Palo Alto (2004) gallery spaces. After exhibiting the works of established artists such as Laxma Goud, F.N. Souza and M.F. Husain, Aicon has collaborated with such artistic institutions such as Tate Britain, the San Francisco Asian Art Museum and the Peabody Essex Museum. Earlier in the summer, Aicon Gallery New York exhibited “Experiments with Truth,” a collection of works by Debanjan Roy. This show included fiberglass sculptures of Gandhi engaged in modern activities such as listening to an iPod and working at a call center. This exhibition was meant to spur conversations about the growing middle class in India and the apathy that has resulted due to their increased material wealth. Aicon Gallery New York has also exhibited the works of Pakistani artists, including Hasnat Mahmood’s “I Love Miniature” collection that comprises of miniaturist copies of Pakistan’s greatest paintings. The accompanying captions are engraved in Braille to further drive home the idea that the viewer cannot fully comprehend these miniature works of art unaided. On both sides of the Atlantic, Aicon Gallery is noted for its mission of promoting contemporary Indian art.

Kavita Ramdya is author of “Bollywood Weddings: Dating, Engagement and Marriage in Hindu America” http://www.bollywood-weddings.com/Home.html

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“Wedding-Planning Tips” (for Indian Brides) by Kavita Ramdya

Tips

Click here to read “Wedding Tips”, an article containing the top five tips I gathered from interviewing twenty couples in researching my book “Bollywood Weddings: Dating, Engagement and Marriage in Hindu America”.

Needless to say, I’ve inadvertently built an expertise in Indian-Hindu wedding planning. With the vast majority of my friends and family now married, rather than let my niche knowledge whittle away with age, I thought I’d write down what I consider the five most important wedding tips for the Indian-Hindu bride. “The Indian American” magazine published the piece in their July-August ’09 issue, but feel free to contact me if you’d like a copy or have any questions about Indian-Hindu wedding planning!

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“The Indian American” magazine July-August 2009

“Wedding-Planning Tips” by Kavita Ramdya

Discussing beforehand the details of important ceremonies key to a perfect wedding, especially for Indian-American brides who would like to blend the traditions of the East and West.

THIS YEAR’S wedding season for Indian-American Hindu brides is drawing to a close. The days are gradually growing shorter and, before we know it, Diwali will be just around the corner. What can we learn from this bridal season’s many Hindu nuptials so brides to celebrate their marital unions with style and ease? Here’s a list of top 5 tips for Indian-American Hindu brides to keep in mind while planning their nuptials.

1. Discuss the rice ceremony. Let’s face it, your parents have hired at least two to three professional photographers and a videographer to record every moment of your wedding day. You’ve even hired a MAC-trained hair and makeup artist to ensure you look appropriately bridal on your wedding day. For those of you having a Telugu wedding ceremony, be sure to discuss with your bridegroom in the rice on your beautifully-coiffed hair.

2. Decide who buys your wedding sari and reception outfit. Indian and American customs bride should wear on her wedding day differ. Whereas American culture assumes the bride will choose her wedding dress, Hindu tradition dictates that the future mother-in-law should pick what the bride should wear on her special day. Don’t forget married life is about compromise; many of your predecessors have given into wearing their future mother-in-law’s handpicked sari before wearing a self-chosen, westernized lehnga for the reception.

3. Talk about the wedding kiss. Before the big day, it is best to talk to your bridegroom about whether you should kiss on your wedding day. If he and you feel comfortable with that level of PDA (public display of affection), discuss how your immediate and extended family will feel. Also, where in the ceremony or reception can you most tastefully integrate your first kiss as a married couple? Friends and family will enjoy witnessing your love confirmed with a kiss.

4. Make sure you carefully vet who will speak at your reception. After the wedding ceremony, your guests will look forward to a delicious Indian meal. The only thing standing in the way is the speeches and toasts. Make sure you and your bridegroom carefully vet who you should invite to speak at your wedding reception. And, remember, your reception shouldn’t be remembered as a C-SPAN conference. Ask family members and friends who are not only close to you and your bridegroom but who will respect your proposed time limit (five minutes) and won’t embarrass you with sordid stories from your bachelorette party. Feel free to sit with these your expectations for a brief yet classy toast.

5. Practice your first dance as bride and groom. The modern Indian-American Hindu bride degree but often times a graduate education, manages a career and maintains a tight diary of social events with friends and family. Despite the SAT prep, promotions at top institutions, nowhere do Indian-American Hindu women have the opportunity to practice walking, much silk sari. Wedding guests yearn to see a couple express their love gracefully in their first dance. Why not prep for the first dance the way you would for your driver’s test or New York Bar exam? Be sure to practice walking and dancing in a sari during the days leading up to your wedding and be as prepared for your debut a married woman as you were for your first spelling bee.

Remember that for your wedding day, every detail deserves your attention. Although weddings can sometimes spur awkward conversations with friends and family, it’s best to have had these tough conversations so you can focus your time and energy on having a great time on your wedding day.

Kavita Ramdya is author of “Bollywood Weddings: Dating, Engagement and Marriage in Hindu America” http://www.bollywood-weddings.com/Home.html

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Review of Nina Paley’s “Sita Sings the Blues” by Kavita Ramdya

Sita

Click here to read Kavita Ramdya’s review of Nina Paley’s animated film “Sita Sings the Blues”.

A few days ago I interviewed cartoonist Nina Paley for a review I wrote of her animated film “Sita Sings the Blues”. The movie is fantastic – it’s funny and smart. “Sita Sings the Blues” is a modern take on the ancient Hindu text “The Ramayana”; the movie picks up when Rama is banished to the forest for fourteen years with Sita accompanying him. However, the story is told from Sita’s point of view; she emerges as an intelligent yet gullible ingénue head-over-heals in love with an effeminate Rama who is overly concerned with what other people think of him. He’s clearly not good enough for her.

I was surprised by how much interest my review in “News India Times” generated; readers e-mailed to tell me that they were eager to watch the movie which is available for free on YouTube. Even readers of my parents’ generation, a generation that didn’t grow up with home computers and are considerably less computer literate for it, were inspired to take advantage of the free, on-line creative content.

Apart from the colourful animation, diverse soundtrack and the East-meets-West look and feel, what does the success of Nina Paley’s film indicate? I propose that there is clearly a market for modern, updated versions of classical and religious stories, myths and beliefs we’ve all grown up whatever our faith. People have an innate desire to listen to stories which explain their origin and their past. In a world where media has exploded to include graphic novels, the internet, HD-screen TVs and mobile phones, we’re seeking stories from non-traditional outlets that also recognize that the world is a much more complicated place now than it was when many of these myths, stories and beliefs were formulated.

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“News India Times”  September 11, 2009

“Rama, Sita and the agony of separation: An animated film presents the epic story of the Ramayana in a format accessible to a generation that has grown up in the Digital Age” by Kavita Ramdya

I recently discovered Nina Paley’s animated film “Sita Sings the Blues” and am compelled to share it with anyone and everyone interested in what happens when East meets West, ancient mythology intersects with popular culture, and artists create “interdisciplinary art.”

Paley’s 72-minute movie tells the story of Sita and Rama from Valmiki’s Ramayana in a way that can only be described as accessible, fun and modern. Her project – to provide an animated reinterpretation of Hindu mythology from a modern and a female point of view – is a risky one but has proved fortuitous for her career: the film has received global media recognition and an enthusiastic response on You Tube, where you can watch the film for free.

Like many great works of art, albeit typically poetry and fiction, Paley’s inspiration for creating the film stemmed from challenges in her love life. After she moved to Trivandrum, India, for her hus-band’s career, he dumped her, leaving her alone to navigate India. However, the hardship she endured as a single, heartbroken woman in India gave her the insight to understand the nature of Sita’s devotion for Rama.

Rather than serve as a “sexist parable,” she writes in her blog, the Ramayana describes “the essence of painful relationships” and provides a “blueprint of human suffering.” Paley likens her husband and his cowardly abandonment to Rama and her own blind love as analogous to Sita’s.

The film, although an animated feature, is by no means a children’s movie. Instead, Paley has interwoven four disparate plots into her film. The viewer is first introduced to Paley’s autobiographical rendering of her failed marriage. The second is the comical back-and-forth between three shadow puppets who debate the mythology’s details and characters’ motivations in the Ramayana. Third, the viewer benefits from a retelling of Sita and Rama’s love story. In this story line, Sita is portrayed as a sickening goody-two-shoes, Rama as a spoiled and effeminate prince and Ravana as the prototypical Bollywood villain.

Finally, Sita sings the blues. Paley appropriates the music of Annette Hanshaw, a jazz singer from the 1920s and ‘30s, for Sita to croon in episodic bursts of song throughout the film.

In order to distinctly divide the four story lines, Paley not only provides a different sound track for each story but also a different “look and feel” in order to visually distinguish the plots from one another. The autobiographical scenes of her disintegrating marriage take place with the background of lonely yet cramped cities. The three hand puppets discuss the facts of the Ramayana while textbook-like images pop up to accompany the debating. The story of Sita’s love for Rama is told from her feminine point of view; the scenes are drawn in the style of traditional Mughal art. Finally, Sita’s musical numbers where she fawns over Rama and sings the blues have a comical and cinematically dramatic feel appropriate for the sound of early 20th-century blues music and film.

“Sita Sings the Blues” is by no means the first attempt at dramatizing the ancient love story of Rama and Sita in a modern way. Like many of my peers, I grew up listening to my mother reading Amar Chitra Katha comic books that depict the religious Hindu myths for Indian-American children to learn the ancient stories. It was through these comic books that we learned who the various gods and goddesses were, their relationships with one another and their religious significance.

And who can forget the horn that blows in the beginning of every one of Ramanand Sagar’s television episodes based on the Ramayana? The series, although revolutionary in the way it depicted a significant Hindu text and made it accessible via free mass media so that Indians from all classes, occupations and regions across the subcontinent could enjoy the shared religious story, was somewhat painful to watch as a young child. Even to a young child, Sagar’s special effects were clumsy and the acting overly dramatic compared to Nickelodeon and MTV programming.

In 2003, my husband and I were lucky to see a dance performance of the Ramayana performed by the Lotus Fine Arts Productions. The choreography was stunningly sensual, the costumes vibrant and the tabla sound hip. Significantly, the production was among my first experiences watching dance accompanied with a story line.

Alas, Lotus Fine Arts Production no longer exists, but today’s youth can benefit from Paley’s animated depiction of the Ramayana for the same effect: conveying ancient Hindu mythology with innovative technology and a modern sensibility. You, too, will find “Sita Sings the Blues” worth crooning about.

Kavita Ramdya is the author of “Bollywood Weddings: Dating, Engagement and Marriage in Hindu America.”

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Welcome to Bollywood Weddings

“Bollywood Weddings: Dating, Engagement and Marriage in Hindu America” answers the age-old question “Why do we marry the people we choose to marry?” What attracts people to one another based on their ethnicity, religion, linguistic, cultural, vocational, educational, and financial qualities? My book is a compilation of true stories about why and how people marry; ultimately, I propose that who we choose to marry and why is meaningful in how we express our national identity.

In doing research for my book, I observed that mainstream popular culture – in this case, Bollywood – plays a significant role in how we approach falling in love and getting married. Of course, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. MTV, the Internet, our iPhones, e-mail, social-networking sites, highway billboards, magazines and newspapers are omnipresent… and influential. Mass media targets us as consumers, promoting the latest fad, technology, product, etc. in a way that is both flagrantly conspicuous yet stealthfully pervasive.

Just like wearing your favourite clothing brand, adding specific groups to your Facebook page, getting body piercings and tattoos, and choosing your hair style are forms of self-expression, I suggest that why and how we fall in love and marry are also ways of navigating and establishing one’s identity. Gertrude Stein chose painting, Amadeus Mozart music, Virginia Woolf writing, and Steve Meisel photography. Although art is one way to express oneself, so is who and how you love and marry.

My blog is an informal exploration of questions around love, marriage, religion, ethnicity, Hinduism, the Indian-American community, South-Asian Diaspora, and Indian-American culture. Here you can read my thoughts on mainstream popular culture (eg. Anna Wintour’s “Fashion Night Out”), current events (eg. Shah Rukh Khan’s detainment at Newark Airport), profiles of artists and writers (eg. Sakti Burman and Ha Jin), and art reviews (eg. “Anish Kapoor” at the Royal Academy of Art).

Welcome to “Bollywood Weddings”!

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