There is so much great work being done by film makers and actors outside of the realm of Bollywood and I want to do my part in helping them succeed. This will be the first in a series of posts about independent movies. As I watch them, I’ll update the post to include my review or thoughts.
Plot Summary: A young Indian man relocates to 1970s Chicago to become an engineer, but when his job falls through, resorts to an elaborate charade with misfit friends in order to woo his childhood sweetheart.
The Tiger Hunter deals with my favorite topic: the Indian-American Immigrant experience, and takes place in my favorite city – Chicago! Also, the movie features my favorite Chicago Desi Actor, Parvesh Cheena. Go see the movie and leave a comment below with your thoughts!
Read this article for insights from The Tiger Hunter‘s director, Lena Khan, and why this movie is so important for the Indian-American community or this one in Teen Vogue on being a South Asian Muslim in Hollywood.
In response to recent anti-immigrant sentiment expressed and embodied by our current President, Rahm Emanuel and the city of Chicago have launched a “One Chicago” campaign, to showcase a unified voice across all of our residents, citizens or not. Unity, equality, and inclusion, that’s what this city is all about. Below are a few featured stories from the campaign.
Alpana Singh is one of my favorite Indian American celebrities in Chicago.
Alpana is a Master Sommelier and entrepreneur. She moved to America from Fiji with her family when she was three years old, and at age 23 she moved to Chicago to run the wine program at Everest. Now she owns three restaurants and believes that her story could not have happened in any other city. (caption from https://onechi.org/stories/alpana-singh/)
I wanted to share Retaj’s story because the reason for most immigration is to secure a better future for the children. I know that’s the driving force for my parents and I want to do what I can to ensure that more children are given the same opportunities that I was.
Retaj is a student living in Kedzie. She recently moved to Chicago with her family as a Syrian refugee looking for safety and a better education. She loves school, learning ballet and wants to be a surgical doctor when she grows up. (caption from https://onechi.org/stories/retaj-abedat/)
Chicago is a city known for it’s music. Be it the Blues, to House, to Kanye and Chance, we definitely leave our mark on culture. The Peoples Music School seeks to ensure everyone has affordable access to music and a chance to pursue their passion.
The People’s Music School was founded by Rita Simo, a pianist from the Dominican Republic whose education at Juilliard inspired her to teach music to American students for free. The school started in Uptown in 1976 and has expanded to four different programs across Chicago. Reflecting Chicago’s diverse ethnic makeup, there are over 20 languages spoken by the families of the 600 young musicians who attend classes. (caption from https://onechi.org/stories/retaj-abedat/)
“Three million Chicagoans. Three million stories. Three million reasons to stand together.”
Chicago Avenue is never more beautiful than it is at night. The workmanlike, bustling, endless hustle of daylight morphs into a fleet and sleek animal. Dressed in lights and stars, come-hither reds, yellows, and greens—the dirty-carpet sky leans back and reveals a sight of glittering skyscrapers, like gangsters dressed in diamonds.
On occasion, I ride the Chicago Avenue bus from downtown to Damen, the bus lurching like a tired old mutt ambling from one skinny tree to the next. This is my favorite street in the city, one where you are as likely to hear Polish and Ukrainian as English. It is a street about business: candy-colored storefronts, taco joints, nail salons, tattoo parlors, cut-rate furniture, cheap shoes, and good burritos.
It’s a no-bullshit proposition. Like the Loop Tavern sign says: “$2 Shot $4 Pints.” The grammar might be wrong but you understand the message—and if you don’t? Just keep walking, Lunchmeat. This slashie (a bar/package-liquor store) is for guys who want a shot and a beer and a six-pack to go. See? Because Chicago Avenue keeps moving. It’s like a shark that way—even at night when it goes slower, the signs continue the pantomime of perpetual motion. It is an avenue in a hurry.
It is also an avenue of tribes—the Mexican joints supported by Mexicans; the Polish and Ukrainian ones likewise. The hipster coffee spots do a brisk business with the influx of the nose-ring and man-bun crowd. Chicago Avenue is the new and the old city right on top of each other, yet not as mismatched as you would think. The colors and signage from half a block away dissolve into a babel of urban language—urgent, exigent, seductive, and unstoppable; these are my primary colors.
One of my favorite things to do is to walk my dog, Chooch, along this avenue late at night when I can’t sleep, when it is peopled by kids staggering home from the bars and old guys leaving for work or coming back from third-shift jobs. Chooch goes crazy for the food smells wafting up and down the street. Once in a while, one of the guys from El Taco Veloz comes out and throws him a morsel of skirt steak. When you give Chooch a treat, he doesn’t wag his tail, he wags his whole ass. This guy will laugh like hell and toss him another piece.
I sometimes get the idea while strolling this avenue that all of the old tropes about the melting pot and the American dream are true—it all kind of works here. There is no ruling population; it is a community. Everyone has a little piece of their own. And everyone has their own task.
There are mornings I wake up and hate this city for its petty vindictiveness, its bottomless cruelty, its idiotic and empty boosterism. It’s run by clowns, pygmies, and Chihuahuas and suffers from a lack of self-esteem so pernicious it makes one despair of the species.
But then there are the mornings I come down Chicago Avenue and see one neighbor shoveling another’s car out of the snow. Or a young Mexican woman helping an old Ukrainian lady navigate the slippery sidewalk on the way to the bus stop. Mornings when I see what is good about us. That is when I feel like we are triumphing. The big narratives may define a city, but the small kindnesses hold it together.
Living in Chicago, I’m lucky enough that we have the talent, space, patrons, and interest to cultivate South Asian arts. One of the most special artistic outlets we have is Rasaka Theater Company, a Desi theater company that performs “South Asian stories” by “South Asian artists”.
Rasaka was founded in 2003 by a group of South Asian artists who were looking to put on a production and worked together to bring their gifts to the community. Check out their mission statement:
Rasaka Theatre Company is based in Chicago and is the Midwest’s first South Asian American ensemble. Our goal is to increase diversity among artists and audience by engaging and illuminating the South Asian American experience. We are particularly dedicated to providing a platform for the artistic expression of South Asian artists.
Our vision encompasses the production of theatrical projects – newly created, adapted and already established. We aim to broaden, strengthen and enrich the experience of the theatre going audience thereby enhancing the local, regional, national and international reputation of Chicago theatre.
“Rasa” means the essence or inspiration of a work of art, and adding “ka” behind a word makes it “of” that, as in “of the essence of art.” Rasaka’s goal is to increase diversity among artists and audience by engaging and illuminating the South Asian American experience, with particular dedication to providing a platform for the artistic expression of South Asian artists.
If you’re interested in supporting their mission, I encourage you to check out some of their productions. They are currently running a play based on Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya adapted by Lavina Jadhwani. It’s playing at the Edge Theater in Uptown thru February 3rd and you can buy tickets here.
“Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya continues to be one of the greatest and continually relevant of plays – concerned with family relationships, broken hearts, and the rampant disappointment of midlife crisis. In this hilarious and sharp reinvention, there is great providence in the shattering of a teacup, time moves backwards, and our bored, sad Chekhovian friends have a tendency to lapse into singing American Indie folk tunes. What could be more Russian? Or American?”