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I see brown people

Pop quiz:

He's in his early 30s. His parents are both from India and they're both successful professionals. He lives in Philadelphia. He's devistatingly handsome (at least he thinks so). An essential part of his job is to watch movies. His teachers used to mispronounce his real name so other name gained some currency. He speaks flawless English, even with a regional Pennsylvanian accent, but people still ask him "where are you from?" (answer: his home town or Pennsylvania or the USA) "no, no, where are you really from?"

Are you thinking me? Partha Mazumdar?

Okay, how about the next clue: he's on the cover of the latest Newsweek magazine.

So, it's not me.

It's M(anoj). Night Shyamalan.

A couple of thoughts:

First, those people who downplay the importance of role models and the requests that minorities should be able to be able to see people who look like them in positions of power and celebrity, I have to say, have never gone day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, not seeing people who look like them where ever they look. South Asian Americans, like me, are going to be talking about this Newsweek cover for a long time; they'll be saying: America really is a place where you can be Indian American and get on the cover of Newsweek.

Second, either Newsweek missed what Shyamalan is doing or he snookered them.

Sure, as is noted in the article, he's influenced by Hitchcock, Lucus, and Spielberg in his choice of subject matter, but in form, his primary influence is the great Indian writer, director, composer Satyajit Ray. From his framing, from his character development, from what he reveals and what he doesn't, from his pacing, Manoj is a student and admirer of Ray. He's bringing an Indian sensibility to Hollywood. It's a sensibility which many find slow, boring, and plodding, but for those whose attention span hasn't been reduced to nanoseconds, his movies are well worth the time.

And, after the American release of Lagaan, movie critics around the country announced that it would be the begining of an American appreciation of Indian films (India has the largest movie industry in the world). (Roger Ebert was more measured in his excellent review of Lagaan.) With Manoj and with other heavily Indian influenced movies such as Moulin Rouge, we don't need to go to the art house to see Indian movies. We can just go to the local multiplex. India is already here.


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