Guest post by my friend/screenwriter Sam Samra

 

So another year has passed where Hollywood’s finest put on the ritz and showcased their shizz for what is considered (though not necessarily) the greatest show on earth. OSCARS baby!

Months before the red carpet was laid, the Academy was dominating social media more than a Kardashian selfie. #OscarsSoWhite should have received the biggest gong of the night. Why? It overshadowed every Mofo nominated!

A couple of weeks before the Oscars I was talking with my girlfriend Miranda, the queen of Moodyer you all know well, who lives and works in the City of Angels. We often dissect into the wee hours. During a recent convo about all things entertainment, her next sentence cracked the shit out of me:

I saw Deadpool the other day, I was great, but all I kept thinking was when the hell do they break into a song?!

Miranda, a long haired, leggy, linguistic Croat, raised in the US was referring to her current obsession with Bollywood, particularly the man, the myth called Shah Rukh Khan that she illustrated in her last Where Is The Love piece. Here is a woman who knows more about current day Bollywood than me – WHAT! Her obsession with Indian culture & cinema coupled with the #oscarssowhite debate made me dwell on my Indian roots.

As a first generation British Indian, I’d grown up heavily influenced by my parents Punjabi roots. My childhood was full of bindis, bangles, saris and samosas. Back then in England no one outside of my culture was the faintest bit interested in Indian food, which seems incredulous, as nowadays ‘having a curry’ is ingrained into British society as much as a good old cuppa.

As a child I used to love going with my Mum to a tiny cinema, which every now and again showed a Bollywood movie. It was always full of Indian Mum’s and kids but no men, come to think of it, where the hell were all the men? The women all cooked something at home and the food was then shared around the cinema whilst we all lapped up the emotional roller coaster that was Bollywood. Amitabh Bachchan, Big B ruled and Sholay (1975) became ingrained in my memory for eternity. There’s a quote that says Indian film history can be divided into Sholay BC and Sholay AD! WORD.

Then puberty happened and Bollywood (in my eyes) became Shittywood. I’m not sure why I turned although I’m pretty sure Madonna and Wham! played their part in luring me away. How was I, or in fact any other woman supposed to know George Michael probably preferred our bros!

Somewhere between my teenage years and mid 20’s my fascination with Hollywood’s great movies of the 50’s and 60’s drew me back to Bollywood, albeit classic Bollywood. It was during this period I learnt about the great Nargis, who went on to star in Mother India (1957), often considered the mother of all Bollywood movies. Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939) pitted against Nargis’ Radha in Mother India is like watching two heavyweights go 12 rounds at Caesar’s Palace. In hindsight I’m gutted Mother India, the first Indian film nominated in the foreign film category at the Academy lost by ONE vote to Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria.

So as I wandered aimlessly (unlike Wordsworth’s lonely as a cloud) through my teenage years trying to fit into a western lifestyle I realise now the error of my ways.

Growing up there were no Indian role models and certainly no Indian women in film or TV that I was drawn too. Madhur Jaffrey and Merchant Ivory productions were just not my masala although Attenborough’s Gandhi (1983) was a masterpiece sweeping the board with 8/11 awards including an Oscar for the first Indian, Bhanu Athaiya for costume design.

WTF then happened? A tsunami of events that lured me back to everything Indian.

In 1991 The Real McCoy hit British TV screens with an array of black and Indian comedy stars with sketches that were original and more importantly relevant to the cultures. (Two of the actors, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal went on to create and star in The Kumars at No. 42, which ran for 5 years and won numerous awards including an international Emmy in 2002 and 2003).

In 1994, Miss India, Aishwarya Rai won Miss World and Sushmita Sen won Miss Universe. Miss India would go on to win the Miss World titles in 1997, and 1999 (having also won the title in 1966) ending the supreme reign in 2000 with Miss India, Priyanka Chopra taking Miss World and Lara Dutta, Miss Universe. Where were all these beautiful women coming from and who was breeding with whom to create these goddesses!

Not to be cast aside the men of Bollywood made my head turn quicker than Regan MacNeil’s in The Exorcist. Hello Hrithik Roshan, Ranveer Singh and of course King Khan! Google the bodies and keep a mental score.

I was still not lured back to watching Bollywood films but my interest was renewed when Lagaan (2001) was nominated for an Oscar and Devdas (2002) was screened at Cannes Film Festival. BTW I have a gay friend who can re-enact scenes from Devdas better than Aishwarya and Madhuri!

But then Bend It Like Beckham (2002) arrived and cemented it, while also conquering the USA. A film about Punjabi Sikhs, which literally made me pee my pants with laughter. Suddenly, there were Punjabi actresses everywhere from ER (Parminder Nagra) to The Good Wife (Archie Panjabi). At last Sikhs accepted there is a creative option for their kids (in which success could be achieved) instead of the predictable, doctors, lawyers and god forbid accountants. All great professions but suicidal if you have creative juices flowing through your veins!

Slumdog Millionaire (2008) took Indian films to another level. Joe Morgenstern from the Wall Street Journal refers to the movie as “the film world’s first globalised masterpiece”. What more is there to say other than 8/10 Oscars and THANK YOU Danny Boyle!

The Indian impact is not just in TV and films, Lisa Eldridge, the world renowned make up artist recently released a book called Face Paint – The Story Of Make Up. A fascinating read that takes you through the history (as opposed to the application) of make up. Imagine my Punjabi shoulders raised in classic bhangra style to see Lisa refer to one of her make up muses, the beautiful, Meena Kumari, a Bollywood actress who sadly died young. Meena starred in one of my all time favourite Bollywood films, Pakeezah (1972). For me though, no one does eyeliner better than the actress Sharmila Tagore in her youth. She was doing the whole Amy Winehouse eyeliner back in the 60’s. It’s inspiring to see make up artists like Lisa Eldridge seek inspiration from all cultures. How I’d wished that make up for Indian skin had been readily available in my teens, instead I looked like a transvestite with a pale face! I blossomed much later in life!

For those not really interested in the #oscarssowhite mayhem I hear you. Ice Cube, the former NWA rapper who co-produced, Straight Outta Compton (2015) nominated for best original screenplay at this years awards was recently on Graham Norton when asked the question:

The Oscars have got marred in all this controversy, so where do you stand on all of that? Like are you going?

His response was legendary.

I never used to go anyways. You can’t boycott something that you never went to anyway. That’s kinda weird. I look at it like a horse race; you know what I’m saying. Once your horse loses the race you tear up the ticket and go on. Just back on out, you know because it’s nothing really that much to put that much energy into like that. We don’t do movies for the industry, we do movies for the fans, for the people and you know, the industry you know they give you a trophy or not or patch on the back or not. It’s nice but it’s not something that you should dwell on. You know we got accolades from all levels, you know from our core fans, from our curious fans, from people you know who didn’t even think they wanted to see that movie. You know, I think the older generation got an understanding on why we did that kind of music and the younger generation got a history lesson and we got so much praise for the movie and its like how can you be mad when one other academy or guild or anybody didn’t say it’s number one. You know its like crying about not having enough icing on your cake. You know what I mean. It’s ridiculous.

On the flip side Kerry Washington also had a valid point on the carpet at the awards.

A lot of people have asked me why I’m here tonight. The thing I’ve been thinking about is when you look at the history of movements, the history of change; a lot of voices are needed at the table. I really respect and admire some of the people who are not here tonight,” she continued. “I really get it. But for me, it felt like my voice is best used at the table. As a new member of the Academy, I really want to be part of the conversation to make sure that there’s institutional change, so that we never have a year like this again.

In my opinion if diversity is the subject debated then surely we need to look at the film industry as a whole and start with producers, directors, casting agents, writers, so on and so forth!

For me the highlight of this year’s Oscars was seeing Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy make history as the only Pakistani to win a second Oscar for best documentary short, A Girl in the River. How bloody awesome is it to see a woman make a documentary about honour killings in her own country and then see the Prime Minister of said country say he’ll change the law on honour killings after watching the film. Sharmeen is absolutely on point when she says:

That is the power of film.

Last Sunday night, fresh off winning a People’s Choice Award for her role in Quantico, Priyanka Chopra became the second only Indian to present an award at the Oscars. Great job Pri, but in your shoes I’d have blinged out on the bindis and danced in wearing a design by Manish Malhotra. Where else can you get away with Bollywood blingtastic other than against the Harry Winstons on the most famous red carpet in the world!

And to sum up the #oscarssowhite controversy on diversity, the saddest part is it’s still a conversation in year 2016. And it’s best concluded with quote by Priyanka Chopra for theVulture Magazine.

The diversity is just reflective of the world today — look around you, this is what America looks like. This is what the world looks like. It’s time Hollywood embraced that. The girl next door looks absolutely different — you have no idea what she’s going to be like. So I don’t want to hear, “This is a testament to diversity,” because it’s actually just what the normal world around you looks like today.