By: Geeta Goindi
VIENNA, November 5 – The cool, crisp weather and a short-notice invite did nothing to deter prominent members of our community from attending a reception on Monday night to welcome Bollywood actor Chandrachur Singh and his younger brother, Indian television producer Abhimanyu Singh, to Washington.
Arranged in haste, but well organized by Manan Singh Katohora, of JMD Creations and South Asian Networking Events (SANE), who is among the foremost event promoters in the national capital region, the meet-and-greet was held at the Diya restaurant and lounge in Tysons Corner. The event was co-hosted by Jyoti Singh of New York who plays a leading role in Manan Singh’s award-winning Bollywood thriller, ‘9 Eleven’, shot in the Washington area. On hand, were other members of the cast and crew including actors Tejash Natali, Samir Stewart, Homi Irani, Sumeet Verma and editor Aftab Asghar.
Chandrachur and Abhimanyu were en route to New York from North Carolina where they were felicitated at the ‘First North Carolina Indian and South Asian Film Festival’ organized by Gauri Singh Puri, Gowri Goli and Jyoti.
Chandrachur is known for his roles in movies such as ‘Maachis’, ‘Josh’, ‘Tere Mere Sapne’, ‘Kya Kehna’ and ‘Daag: The Fire’. We caught up with him during his brief stopover in our area. He comes across as keenly intelligent, learned and acutely perceptive. Offering his heartfelt sympathies to all affected by super storm Sandy, he told us, “first and foremost, I would like to say that whatever has happened here, people have coped with it very well”. And thus began our informal tete-a-tete!
Since he was in the US for the express purpose of attending the film festival, we queried him about his view of such events. Replying thoughtfully, he said, “There is a discerning audience for film festivals. Then, there are people who are scouting for talent. There are some intellectuals here, the creme-de-la-creme, who want to see good cinema and that cinema does not have a chance to get a good release. It encourages independent filmmakers who can express their creativity, some of it maybe excellent, some of it maybe mediocre. But, nonetheless, they have a drive and they have a passion which is why they are doing what they are doing. So, when you have a festival, you have an opportunity for a viewer to watch a film which is not run-of-the-mill and there is an opportunity for the independent filmmaker to find someone who will back him either for the release of that film or for further work. So, for the connoisseur, it is great to be there. It’s like watching a classical music recital because there are only a certain number of people who will come for it, who have the leanings towards that. So, it is a very good thing. These festivals really help the cause of the creative man”!
Chandrachur commended his cousins, Gauri, Jyoti and Ketki, for pioneering the effort to organize a film festival in North Carolina. “I am very happy that they have taken this initiative in an area which is not much exposed to the creative field”, he said. “So, you are flowing against the tide when you are starting. I think the festival is going to grow, move from strength-to-strength. I have full faith. We have planted the seed now; it’s going to bear a tree and spread it’s branches all over”. He quoted the famous Urdu sher (couplet): “Mein akela he chala tha Janibe manzil ki taraf, Log aate gaye aur karwa banta gaya” (I started walking all alone towards the destination. People kept joining and it became a caravan).
Among the films screened at the festival were: ‘9 Eleven’; ‘A Little Revolution’, a profoundly moving documentary by director Harpreet Kaur and producer Manmeet Singh on the issue of farmer suicides in Punjab; and ‘Play Like a Lion’, a brilliant documentary directed by Joshua Dylan Mellars on the life and legacy of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, an Indian classical musician of the Maihar gharana.
Harpreet Kaur and Manmeet Singh were both present at the meet and greet in Diya as were other prominent artistes and activists including: Mrs. Harvinder Katohora, an acclaimed poetess (Yaadon Ki Saheli); Sri Mirajkar, who has acted in several plays by Natya Bharati; Dr. Suresh K. Gupta and Mr. Sunil Singh of the National Council of Asian Indian Associations (NCAIA); Manish Sood and Deepa Shahani of Intense Entertainment, leaders in bringing the finest Bollywood music concerts to the Washington area; and Violet Fernandes, a popular designer of sarees.
We discovered that Chandrachur was a music teacher before he joined Bollywood and he has a fine ear for melody. “I tried it out, enjoyed it and realized this is my second calling”, he said, about his stint at teaching. Given his background, it didn’t come as a surprise that he was deeply moved by the documentary on Ali Akbar Khan Saab, sarod maestro extraordinaire!
‘Play Like A Lion’ is a masterpiece on celluloid! Many people, especially in the west, may not be familiar with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, who died in 2009 at the age of 87, but through this documentary, the artiste and his art are ingrained on our minds forever! With precision, the film elucidates his life, his gift of music, his extraordinary legacy, seen in large part through the eyes of his son, Alam Khan. It begins with an Indian proverb, “We will know our end by our beginnings”.
Chandrachur was so affected by the film, it brought him to tears. Mellars “is a very fine director”, he said. “I think he worked very closely with Alam to make the documentary. Some documentaries move you more than full length feature films. There are some documentaries, like Michael Moore’s, which have an impact on the viewer. Very few documentaries can hit you in the gut. This is one of them”!
Chandrachur, whose cousins - Jyoti, Gauri and Ketki - hail from the Maihar gharana, underscored the huge contributions of Ali Akbar Khan Saab. “He was so involved with his music as if in a state of surrender”, he told us. “There is a saying, ‘Nagma wohi hai nagma ke jise rooh sune and rooh sunaye’ (A song is only a song when it is heard by the soul and sung by the soul).
We asked Chandrachur about his impression of ‘9 Eleven’. “I think ‘9 Eleven’ is a very fine film”, he replied. “I think all actors performed beautifully, the writing was good, intelligent story play with such a confined space. I found Jyoti Singh’s performance to be excellent. She is outstanding in the film”.
We probed further and asked him what he liked most about the movie. “It is very difficult to make a film like this and hold the attention of the audience”, he told us. “So, the writing and performances have to be very good. Specifically, what I found were a lot of scenes where people would react immediately with the one-liners and something to play to the galleries. Despite that, there was a deep thought which went into some of the lines that were spoken. There was wisdom and all the actors did a very fine job”!
Regarding his current and upcoming film projects, Chandrachur mentioned ‘Prem Mayee’ (Filled with Love), ‘Zilla Ghaziabad’ with co-stars Sanjay Dutt, Arshad Warsi, Minissha Lamba and Vivek Oberoi, and Mira Nair’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’. Since the latter two films have yet to be released, he could not divulge details. Instead, he dwelt on ‘Prem Mayee’ which has an ironic title as the story revolves around abusive relationships. “I played a character with very negative shades”, Chandrachur explained. “The film is about manipulating the name of love. It’s about abusing the word ‘love’. It’s like saying ‘sorry’ and then doing the same thing over and over again. It’s about how you say, ‘I love you’ and you don’t mean it. It’s a very interesting film. It has been critically acclaimed and I hope it is soon released on television”.