That time I was interviewed about Shah Rukh Khan…

Full disclaimer: This is not my area of expertise.

Which is why Ada Tseng and Brian Hu asked me to join them for the first episode of season six of their amazing Saturday School Podcast. The podcast is an exploration of Asian American pop culture, that gets into the nostalgia, the talent and the amazing people who have brought us to this powerful place, this “Crazy Rich Asians,” Mindy Kaling, Hasan Minhaj, “Fresh Off the Boat” era. This season, Ada and Brian are revisiting films from Asia that portray the US, starting with the 2003 classic “Kal Ho Naa Ho.”

I can’t remember the first time I saw a Bollywood film, but I do know that I spent a lot of time actively disliking them. It took Ada and Brian, two Taiwanese American friends, to show me the virtues of Indian blockbuster films — and more specifically, to show me the glory of Shah Rukh Khan.

(Aside: For those uninitiated in SRK, here’s a story Ada wrote for Global Nation that serves as a good primer. While this piece might send you down a rabbit hole that makes you miss your deadlines or your family obligations, it’s probably more efficient than searching the internet and scrolling through 100 Buzzfeed listicles. Unless, of course, you’re like many SRK fans and are looking for that sort of thing.)

I have a complicated relationship with Bollywood, one that is about immigration, shame, pride, joy and family all at once. Ada and Brian really got me to dig deep and tell that story. And laugh with me (at me?) along the way.

To my desi friends, my immigrant friends, to anyone who has ever felt like an oddity in the US, maybe you can relate. Is there something in your pop culture history that was really uncomfortable when you were young but became inexplicably empowering as you grew older? I’d love to hear about it.

logo for Saturday School, blue and pink text with the "oo" of "school" made with a VHS cassette.

Here’s where you can subscribe to Saturday School, which is part of the awesome Potluck Podcast Collective. It’s a wonderful, joyful journey to be part of!

Saturday School is in its sixth season — amazing! If you’re looking for a new podcast where you can show your love, check out Naomi Gingold and Jacky Ahn Yang’s startup long form narrative podcast about Asia: Not the Hello Kitty Show. (Audiophile journalist friends, they’re looking for pitches too!)

Global Lives #2: Anil Kapoor

Anil Kapoor told me I have a “lovely smile.” My mother was pretty excited.

Anil Kapoor

And that says a lot. This 30-year Bollywood veteran is now the kind of star in America who draws attention on a red carpet in Hollywood. Kapoor made his international debut as the dubious host of India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire.

In this, my second Global Lives podcast, I’m examining Kapoor’s take on “going global.” Since the success of Slumdog, he has found a willing international audience. He’s traveled with the film to the Golden Globes and the Oscars, and recently was cast in the eighth season of the Fox series 24. But Mr. Kapoor was thinking about the global film marketplace long before Slumdog‘s success. Last weekend at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles he debuted an English-language version of a Hindi film he produced called Gandhi, My Father.

This episode of Global Lives was co-produced by Asia Pacific Arts, with insight and recordings from Ada Tseng.

You can easily  subscribe to this podcast or share it on your own blog or website.

Global Lives #2: Anil Kapoor

more than politics

This week I’m revisiting one of my favorite books, the famous fictionalized account of the last months in the life of South American liberator Simon Bolivar by Gabriel Garci­a Marquez. I cannot recall the first time I read The General in His Labyrinth except that it was early in my college career and it opened my eyes to world literature. My notes in the book seem completely unfamiliar — I appear to have fact-checked the book, not just against history but also to spot the moments which are fantasies of the character Boli­var’s troubled mind. Now, I read the book differently. I am drawn to Manuela Saenz, whom the General loves with an incomprehensible depth. What is more incomprehensible is the way that she loves him, despite his pride and his descent, or maybe because of those things. Here is one of Garcia Marquez’s earliest introductions to Manuela:

Manuel read to him for two hours. She had been young until a short time before, when her flesh bagan to overtake her age. She smoked a sailor’s pipe, used the verbena water favored by the military as her perfume, dressed in men’s clothing, and spent time with soldiers, but her husky voice still suited the penumbra of love. She read by the scant light of the candle, sitting in an armchair that bore the last viceroy’s coat of arms, and he listened to her in bed, lying on his back, dressed in the civilian clothes he wore at home and covered by a vicuna poncho. Only the rythym of his breathing indicated that he was not asleep.

Since I last read this book, it has been used many times to describe the descent of a different general, Prevez Musharraf of Pakistan. The New York Times took the book’s title for an editorial calling on American to “disentangle itself from the sinking fortunes of Gen. Pervez Musharraf.” Both the London Review of Books and the Washington Post reuse the novel’s title to headline reviews of Musharaff’s memoir.

I think this is an overly simple trope that belies the depth of Garcia Marquez’s work. Indeed, the novel is about a general in his darkest hours, during the last days of his power. But what is most dark and beautiful here is not the political turmoil, not as simple as the news events that color newspapers’ accounts of Musharraf’s last days in charge. It is about how a liberator gets lost because, even though his days in battle are over, in his final days he is still at war within himself and his memories.

It was a bit of serendipity that I happened to unpack this book from my moving boxes. I am thinking a lot about the lasting impacts of war these days, both for those who commit themselves to war and those who find themselves in its path. Perhaps this is why Manuela intrigues me so much; even though she is not at the fore, she plays such an intimate role in the General’s life, plunged into his wars because of her love and loyalty. It is this personal part of war which is hard to capture in news reports and book reviews, and is perhaps best understood through the lens of fiction, Garcia Marquez’s lyrical account in particular.

Completely apart from The General in His Labryinth, I also spent time last week writing some film reviews. Versions of a review of Chandni Chowk to China appeared in The China Beat and Asia Pacific Arts, as well as a review of the newest Deepa Metha film, Heaven on Earth, which also appeared in Asia Pacific Arts.

(Sorry for the lack of accents in this post — my website needs some work on the back end so they don’t show up as funny characters.)

unlikely combos

I spent maybe too much time this weekend reviving my rap playlist on iTunes. But it’s not my fault! To be fair, rappers are making pretty good news lately.

I’ve been waiting for a hero to take on Fox News, and I’ve found one in the most unexpected of places. My favorite rapper #2, Nas, is taking Bill O’Reilly to task, and what’s even better is that he’s doing some of this very important work on really reputable new sources.

And I thought this was enough for one weekend, enough to keep me busy looking for videos and awesome soundbites from both sides. Enough for me to start emailing friends links to my favorite Nas songs from YouTube. But two more unlikely combos are taking even more of my attention.

snoop-akshay.jpgSnoop has gone to Bollywood. My favorite line: “Snoop Dogg’s got love for everybody. I like how the Punjabis get down;
the way they dress is fresh and they got a real appreciation for music.”

And then, I find out that Ludacris is eating roti pratas. I can relate to one of the patrons of his new restaurant: “‘The roti is like crack,’ said Camille Wright, 36, the owner of a boutique in nearby Decatur, who was devouring the paper-thin pancakes with friends.