Saturday, December 11, 2010

AIFF 2010: "crazy Indian family living in New Jersey much like our own."

[I just found this sitting here as a draft.  I thought I'd posted it Saturday.  It's a bit out of date, but here it is.]

Q:  There are so many movies, how do you pick which ones to write about?

A:  You have to embrace serendipity to enjoy a film festival - make some sort of a plan, but be ready to abandon it as things come up.  I remember last year going to the wrong venue and just staying there and getting involved in the best ever Q&A with the film maker.  The audience members just had a variety of expertise relevant to the film and the discussion verged on brilliant.

So, why is Calling Karma on my radar?  Several accidents of life.  I started trying to make a list of all the films in competition in each category, but only made it through the features this year.  Calling Karma is on that list.

And India has always fascinated me - it's this huge part of the world physically and in terms of population.  It's a place where many languages and religions somehow live together - not always peacefully.  It's a place where the past still exists intact almost alongside with the modern.  It's the biggest alternative to the modern world still on earth.  There's a tag on this blog with lots of posts on India.

India has incredible music.  And if all the other food in the world suddenly disappeared, Indian food is so varied and so imaginative and so healthy that after twenty years, few people would miss any of the others - even Thai food.  (Blasphemy!) But even more important, people who know the world in a completely non-Western way are still respected in India, and that gives us tools for alternative thinking as our extreme rationality and focus on money reveals itself as an insufficiently balanced way to live. 

And India has a huge presence in English language literature. Some of that has been translated to film.  A lot of this literature has been expat Indian reflections, and mostly from fairly sophisticated and educated Indians. (I'm getting off on thin ice here as I start speculating beyond what I know.  But bear with me and take this as brainstorming because if I do the research necessary to document this line of reasoning, I won't get this posted before Karma Calling plays tonight.)   I'm not sure how much of the Indian-American experience has been captured directly to film without being a book first.  I can think of one example - the two Harold and Kumar movies.  And one of the locations that Harold and Kumar was filmed is Hoboken, New Jersey.  And Hoboken is where Karma Calling was filmed.

So, that's how this movie got my attention and why I emailed Sarba Das one of the filmmakers who is now in Anchorage and why I'm going to the 8:30 showing at Out North tonight.

So, here's what Sarba had to say in response to some of my email questions.

When we first came up with the idea to make Karma Calling, no one had ever really heard much about Call Centers and "outsourcing" was a relatively new concept.  For us, the journey was personal.   Back in 2003, my brother Sarthak and I were actually writing a screenplay about a crazy Indian family living in New Jersey much like our own.  One day we were sitting down to write and brainstorm, and the phone rang.  It was guy named "Rob" with a very heavy Indian accent on the other end who seemed to be struggling a bit with his English and trying to sell us an increased line of credit.  My brother, fluent in several Indian languages immediately chimed in with Hindi.  Rob seemed relieved.  They chatted for sometime and we soon found out that "Rob" was actually "Rohit" and that he was using an American-friendly name because he was a Call Center Operator--something we'd never heard of before.  He told us about all of the techniques that they were learning in the call center from watching Simpsons episodes to learn about American Culture to Accent Neutralization lessons.  We were fascinated.  Rohit took a liking to us and from there on practically every day we'd sit to write, the phone would ring and he would be calling just to chat, just to find out about our lives in America.  After a few weeks of these telephone exchanges, we found his stories to be so hilarious that it dawned on me...why not include a storyline  in our screenplay about a Call Center Operator calling the Indians living in New Jersey?  And so Karma Calling was born...
She just got to Anchorage early yesterday morning - some preliminary reactions:

I have never set foot in Alaska before and I feel so fortunate to be here now with the film.  The natural beauty is just awe-inspiring and I'm so impressed with the fervent love of independent filmmaking that seems to have taken hold in this community. Grassroots film festivals like the Anchorage International Film Festival are what allows indie filmmakers like myself to share our work with audiences that we'd never dream to have access to otherwise.  It's really an honor to be a part of the festivities.

Karma Calling - 8:30 - Out North - Saturday night

Is this a great film?  Probably not.  It might not even be good.  But this is a film festival and at the very least, you'll get a glimpse of a couple people's take on the Indian-American experience.

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