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Bollywood Fever in the West

By Rakesh Mathur

Indians films stir up unprecedented interest in the West.
'Devdas', Sanjay Leela Bhansali's latest film won huge acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival in France last week. The Hindi yarn about a man's unselfish and infinite love mesmerised a large audience amidst a visiting delegation from India including famous producers from Mumbai and Chennai Devdas, which was not billed to officially run in the competition was, described by the Cannes Film Festival's official catalogue as "a story of a love beyond all else….even life. The saga of a man called Devdas who loved, loved and just loved."

Bhansali, well known for 'Khamoshi' and 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam' matched huge financial investment with creativity and imagination to produce the film. The movie captivated the international audience for its breathtaking sets, designed by Nitin Desai who attracted much praise as its stars Sharukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai. Nitin Desai's new design of the restaurant of Selfridges, a departmental store in the West End, during the launch of the Bollywood season last month has generated higher sales, according to the boss of Selfridges. The chief executive of Selfridges said that Bollywood sets in their store represented 'maximalism' compared to 'minimalism' that was displayed during their Japanese season. The legendary Hindi film superstar, Amitabh Bachchan said it was heartening to see Indian films being appreciated in the West. Bachchan does not share the nickname "Bollywood" which has a western connotation. He said:"I personally don't like the term, Bollywood. "I would rather hear the age-old term, Indian film Industry, which should be treated as a serious industry. I mean, there should be a proper business management of this industry where professional marketing and finance managers play an important role", he added. An aggresive approach to marketing films was displayed by Tongues On Fire, a new organisation while promoting the festival of Asian women directors at the National Film Theatre in London.

Mira Nair told a press conference that it was the first time she made two films simultaneously: 'Monsoon Wedding' and all the American, Uma Thurman starring, 'Hysteric Blindness'. While 'Monsoon Wedding' is the portrayal of the Punjabi sensibilities, shown during a typical middle-class wedding, 'Hysteric Blindness' captures the suburban ethos of the modern American women who are hysterically looking for men in their lives. This film was reminiscent of a survey, conducted in the East Coast which concluded that it was easier for a woman of 40 and over to win a lottery than to find a man in New York. Nair was able to delve into this subject very poignantly and came out with a moving film.

Nair said that her new venture is again in New York, where she was directing a short film on the arial attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11. She is inviting major directors from all over the world to make short films on this subject. Mira Nair's film will deal with a Muslim paramedic who was first portrayed as a terrorist and then a victim, trying to save other people's lives. Someone who was accused of a wrong doing became a hero overnight.

Gurinder Chaddha could not have timed the release of her latest film "Bend it like Beckham" better which taps into the popularity of Beckham and his foot injury during the present world cup football match. She said that her film was now breaking all records. Chaddha said that the character of father, played by Anupam Kher, in this film resembled her own father who respected Gurinder's growth in the West and understood her dilemmas of being torn between two cultures.

'Bend It Like Beckham' was recently bought for exhibition in the North Americas by the 20th Century Fox for over three million dollars. Gurinder has now been asked to direct a Bollywood movie for the English-French Film production company, Pathe.

Neil Spencer, a journalist with the London Observer and The Guardian who wrote the screenplay and lyrics for the very first Bollywood movie, Bollywood Queen, made in East London graced the premiere of his own film. The film is in English which had its songs translated into Urdu. The showing was attended by the cast of the film which was hand-picked in London. Revolving around what is described as 'a very thin narrative line' the movie has all major Bollywood masala with an impressive musical. Time will tell whether the release of this film in Britain and India will charm


What’s in a name? Everything

By Shiv Sharma

What’s in a name? Ask a Hindu parent living in Britain, or for that matter any where else in Europe or North America, and he or she will ruefully shake the head and heave a sigh deep enough to fill a clipper sail and declare with a faint sigh: A lot.

For Indians, naming a child takes a lot more than a quick flick through the pages of a name book from the local library and a cosy fireside chat between the husband and the wife doubtlessly chuffed over what the pun-prone, tabloid headline writers call a nappy event.

First, there are the parents’ parents - from both sides, mind - to be taken into account. Their wishes are ignored at your own peril and a lifetime of sarcastic reminders whenever the offspring fails to live up to his or her name.

Uncles and aunts stick their oar in next with suggestions in long, rambling letters, also using the opportunity to complain, mildly or bitterly depending on their relationship with the would-be parents, about the delay in informing them about the impending arrival of tiny toes.

Then there’s the family pundit with his lengthy any often mind-boggling astrological calculations, which purport to take into account things like planetary activity in Saturn, Uranus and Jupiter and how Mars is aspected in Neptune at the precise time of the child’s arrival into this world.

Another fairly common method in some families is for the eldest of the clan to make a pilgrimage to the local temple and, after hours of mantra-chanting, prayers, making obeisance and sometimes lying at full length on the ground, face downwards in the ritual attitude of prostration before the family’s favourite deity, ask the holy book to be opened at random.

The first letter of the first world on the first page then determines what the baby’s name should begin with . . . L or P, G or S.

Next, enter the friendly but somewhat nosy neighbours. They stake their claim not so much with what the child should be called but what the child should not be called. Their explanations are usually accompanied by horror stories about people who bore a particular name and how they came to grief for bearing it.

Now if the baby happens to be born in Britain, America, Canada or Australia, countries with sizeable population of people from the sub-continent, the problem acquires a whole new dimension: that the name should be short, preferably monosyllabic, so it can get round the tongue of the local community with ease, while retaining its own Indian identity.

In an age noted for its break with tradition and an obsession to “do one’s own thing”, christian names have acquired a special significance; for no sooner has an introduction been completed than familiarity sets in. Mr, Mrs, Miss or Ms are quickly cast aside from conversation - and correspondence - as relics of some long bygone era and Vikram becomes Vicky and Sushma is transformed into Sue.

I’m using the term “christian name” for the sake of convenience, of course, for today Britain can truly claim to be a multi-racial, multi-faith, multi-cultural and multi-religious society and “christian” is a bit of a misnomer and theologically inaccurate.

While there are many female first names that are common to both India and Britain, like Monica, Sheila, Rita, Tara, Vera, Ruby, Reena, Anita, Anushka, Mona, Maya, Mina, Nina, Lena, Tina, Pamela, Sonia, Lily, Jasmine, scores of others, equally pretty and picturesque, such Sunita, Sujata, Sudesh, Suchitra, Sumitra, Sunaina, Sudha, Subhadra, Surendta, Sulakshna, can to conveniently contracted to sweet-sounding Sue. On the same principle, Mandira becomes Mandy, Annapurna, Anna and Priya, Ria.

The females steal a further march on the lads by having many English soundalkes, like Meera (Moira, Myra) Kiran (Karen and Keiron), Promila (Pameala), Anjali (Angela and Angelica).

Unfortunately, in the men’s department, no English-sounding Indian names have found their way into the registrars’ files. The only exception being Neil, which is usually spent as Neel, or Neal but can be put other ways, depending on how far one wants to push the compromise.

In Britain, the origin of Neil has been separately traced back to the Irish word niadh, meaning “champion” and the Icelandic hero’s name Njal. The Normans first brought the name to England as Nel, Neel and Nele. This was latinised as Nigellus, which was later thought to be a diminutive from niger, meaning black. It took other forms, like Nigell, Nygell amd Nigel. These names became popular in the Middle Ages.

Vavrious forms of Niall continued in use. Neil and Nigel are common mostly in Scotland while Niall is common in Ireland and Neil in England.

Another theory suggests that Neal was derived from nihil, the ancient Roman lineman’s call - equivalent to the present-day love all. St Neal is the patron saint of coma victims and Australian TV.

Unfortunately, the Indian Neel or Neal has no such fascinating stories attached to it. The world simply means blue - Little Boy Blue, perhaps?

Raj, a household name in pre-independence India because of its links with the freedom struggle and later for its strong “cinema” connections, has sadly slipped in the popularity ratings in recent years. Parents settled in Britain are also a bit wary of christening their name offspring Raj for fear of the youngsters being branded British Raj by teasing friends in the UK and relatives back home.

A good old Indian first name, surprisingly, is Luv (pronounced as Love). It’s not only old but, you could say, ancient, going back 2,500 years, give or take a couple of centuries on either side. In fact, one of the twin sons of Lord Rama in the Hindu holy book of Ramayana was called Luv.

I recently had a chance to meet in Ashton-under-Lyne, Tameside, a young East African Indian, who had been given the name of Luv by his grandparents in a fit of religious fervour. He had just arrived in Britain and was uninitiated in the warm and friendly ways of the people in the North. Returning from an expedition to the local supermarket, he looked pleasantly perplexed and kept grinning and muttering little words to himself. Pressed to reveal his problem, he disclosed that the conversation in his encounter with the woman shop assistant at the local supermarket had gone something like this:
Can I help you, luv?
Luv, how do you know my name?
You what, luv?
My name.
What about your name, luv? Luv, my name.
Your name, luv?
Yes, luv.
Well, you can imagine how it all came to a pleasant end a few minutes later with smiles all round.

In the absence of any Gallup, Marplan and Moriplan findings, it is hard to say how many Indian males being born in Britain are named Neil, but it’s a reasonably safe bet to put the figure somewhere between one in three and one in four.

To conduct a quick spot survey of my own at a children’s birthday party at a friend’s house recently I yelled out “Neil” in the middle of passing the parcel and immediately out of the nine or ten youngsters taking part three looked in my direction with wonder in their eyes.

Further confirmation of the popularity of Neil as an Indian name came a few days later when, armed with a bunch of white seedless grapes, I visited a friend’s wife in hospital who had just given birth to a 7lb 4oz bouncing baby boy.

Her husband was already there and the two were firmly locked in an argument in easily catchable whispers over what the new-born should be called.

Putting the grapes on her bedside table, I congratulated her enthusiastically. But my zeal was greeted with a fleeting smile full of post-natal pique. Waving me to the chair that her husband had just vacated for me, she quickly turned her head in his direction again to complete the unfinished business.

No, no, no. No son of mine is going to be named Neil,she boomed, quite loud now and easily inviting attention of patients on nearby beds and their visitors.

But what’s wrong with Neil? ventured the husband timidly, trying to avoid a scene.

What’s wrong with Neil? I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it. It’s ordinary. Every Tom, Dick and Harry is called Neil.

Shiv Sharma, a former staff journalist on the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, The Guardian and Daily Mirror, is the author of the novel Bombay Wallah. Priced £5 plus £1.50 postage, it can be obtained by e-mailing shiv.sharma@linelone.net

Searching for Asian women of Achievement
By Rakesh Mathur, London

AWA, a London based organisation for awarding asian women of achievement is inviting nominations for women who have excelled in various fields of life. The word Asian in the UK denotes people of South Asian origin such as Indians, Pakistanis and SriLankans.

Asian Women of Achievement is a unique organisation which is supported by Cherie Booth, QC, the wife of current Prime Minister Tony Blair, The Lord Swraj Paul and a number of other distinguished personalities such as Baroness Kennedy, Diana Hayden, Reuben Singh who also serve on a panel of judges.

These awards are the brainchild of Pinky Lilani, a successful businesswoman, who was involved with European Women of Achievement Awards. She decided last year that it was time to celebrate the success of Asian women in the U.K. She explained that AWA awards aim to seek out the UK's unsung heroines whose lives and careers have inspired and motivated members of the Asian community as a whole.

"Asian women from all walks of life have forged out a place for themselves at the very top of their chosen fields, with many of them having gone unrecognised for their remarkable achievements and contributions. The launch of these inspirational awards in 1999 has changed that," Pinky Lilani explained.

Last year's award ceremony was a star studded affair with Cherie Booth who appeared in Indian dress. Shakira Caine, Clive Anderson were among other personalities who attended this function.

Last year, these awards were given to Meena Pathak (Business-Corporate), Usha Parmar (Business-Entrepreneurial), Professor Parveen Kumar (The Professionals), Nasreen Munni Kabir (Arts and Culture), Rashida Laher (Social and Humanitarian) and Zahida Manzoor (The chariman's award). This year a couple of new categories such as Young Achiever and Media have been added to the nomination list.

The second Asian women of Achievement Awards have already received great support from the business community, with New Deal, Virgin Atlantic, NatWest and Rasmallai.com sponsoring for this event.

Mrs Pinky Lilani reiterated, "The awards will provide role models, not only for future generations of women, but more importantly for the community as a whole. I hope that the women who enter will be seen as an inpiration for us all, both from within and outside the Asian community."

The winners of the these prestigious awards will be announced at a glittering gala dinner at the London Hilton Hotel, Park Lane on Thursday 17th May 2001. Closing date for nominations is Friday 2nd March 2001 which may be made by email to dimple@mediamoguls.com