Happy Easter !…

Jesus in the clouds

Trivial incidents become fixed in the memory & the minds eye for years afterwards because of certain distinct details – they could be sensations triggered by a sight, or a smell, and if these occur at an early age, they can be particularly vivid & long-lasting.

Back in the day, one Sunday afternoon, I was dispatched by my father to get an evening meal of burgers and fries from the local Wimpy – both my parents worked & my father, (although my memory of this detail is hazy to say the least) had only just moved from a night shift to daytime hours, whilst my mother continued to work a night shift at Heathrow Airport – a big employer of many of the local Asian community.

We were a family of 7 – myself, 3 sisters and a cat, and I knew a family-sized Wimpy would be a large haul.

As I stepped out into the street lined by Victorian terraces, my head was full of worrying thoughts about weeping crucifixes and images of Jesus seen in the sky – an evangelist paper had been thrust through the letter box – doorstep bible-thumpers were a common occurrence in those days (the mid 60’s), before they moved their activities to less sensitive areas, considering the mixed ethnic and cultural make-up of Southall then, as now, but it was more than likely that they had been there long before the arrival of Asians, given the number of Kingdom Halls, Methodist Congregations & Pentacostal ministries, which mostly catered to the local Afro-Caribbean population.

A thunderstorm had just passed and left in its wake enormous cumulous clouds in a dazzling blue sky, of a kind more fitted to a de Mille religious epic – the bright afternoon sun had turned the glistening streets into a river of gold all the way from our street and into the Broadway, and all the way up to the cinema (which I would pass on my way) and to the Wimpy just next to it, and beyond that up the great swathe of South Rd to the train station perched on the very top of the railway bridge.

The air would have smelt of ozone and fresh wet earth, but my thoughts would settle on inexplicable anomalies of nature, and my stomach was gripped in a knot of anxiety – would I see Jesus in the huge cumulous clouds, and what would I do about it ? – the universe, life and its mysteries loomed large and my imagination had already been filled by the astronomy & science fiction books which I pored over in the local library.

Before Sunday trading, the streets were largely devoid of people and traffic, fewer people owned cars, but the sun after the rainstorm had bought out wanderers – the walk through the listless Broadway went without incident – I passed the usual landmarks like “The Arcade”, now blocked by a padlocked chained gate, and dreamily imagined what might be found in the toyshop in its deepest recesses, a regular destination on a Saturday, where cheap joke-shop toys might be bought, like “Whoopie” cushions or powders which, when added to a victims coffee, would result in a headache – they hardly ever worked…

Any anxieties I had about being sent on an errand were compounded by the thought that dangerous and hostile gangs of “Teddy Boys”, and perhaps even the notorious & near-mythical “Gasworks Gang” might be encountered, alongside my already troubling thoughts, but as I got closer to the cinema on South Road, these gradually diminished, as the thought of food somehow gained precedence over the knot of anxiety in the pit of my stomach.

Two things became clear as I walked past the stately entrance of the Odeon – movies were a safe refuge, no matter how strange the ideas depicted in the “B” Grade horror and SciFi movies were, luridly illustrated in film posters, lobby cards and black & white stills on the walls either side of the entrance.

Jesus in the clouds couldn’t easily compete with “King Kong Escapes”, a Toho film with a giant robot “Mechani-Kong”, dinosaurs and, yes, King Kong.

My memories of the Wimpy itself are blurred except for sitting waiting for the cook to prepare the order – the design of Wimpy “bars” in those days was such that you could sit around the grill in a semi-circle and watch the cook fry the onions and burgers, whilst perched on a high barstool, sipping a lime-flavoured milkshake – it seemed very American and futuristic, and above all, comforting – maybe it’s to do with the profusion of red leatherette and chromed stainless steel and the smell of frying burgers, onions and chips, eventually delivered, with sachets of ketchup, salt & pepper, in voluminous white paper bags.

Anyway, as I made my way home to the waiting mouths, I had made up my mind not to look at the evangelist paper, and quietly cursed its intrusion on my day, relishing instead the thought of an evening meal of Wimpy burgers, chips and sachets of salt, pepper & Heinz ketchup, to the sight of my mother quietly attending to the evening prayers before the shrine on the mantelpiece above the fireplace – although, damn, I forgot about the Songs of Praise on TV…

My mother, a devout Hindu & confirmed vegetarian, would no doubt have an opinion on my anxiety, citing a Karmic transgression through consuming a beef-burger – and as a Hindu Brahmin family in particular – perhaps she is right and genetic guilt was the cause of it, and Jesus in the clouds was standing in judgment, along with all the Hindu deities, wagging an index finger of disapproval, in my direction…

 

(C) Ravi Swami – March 2016

Sanjays’ Super Team Gets Personal…

Sanjays Super Team gets Personal…

Bombay Duck

Pixar studios latest short, “Sanjays Super Team”, by Pixar animator Sanjay Patel is the latest example of how Pixar continue with their winning (though sometimes less successful) formula of injecting stories with a personal angle & therefore emotion.

The short has been premiered as a supporting film to their feature “The Good Dinosaur” at the 2015 Annecy Animation festival.

Building on Patels personal exploration of his Indian / Hindu heritage in the form of his illustrated book “The Divine Loophole” – a contemporary re-telling of the Hindu mythological epic, “The Ramayana”Sanjays Super Team is told from the viewpoint of Sanjay, a second gen’ Indian kid growing up in his parents motel in America during the 80’s, & clearly based on Patel himself.

There are scant details of the film other than the suggestion that it combines a love for the Saturday Morning kids TV cartoons most American (&…

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Krishna Shah : 1938 – 2013

Shalimar

 

RIP Krishna Shah – writer / director of films like “Hard Rock Zombies” & arguably the very first true Indian / Western crossover film “Shalimar”, which starred Rex Harrison , John Saxon & a host of 60’s Hindi film headliners, in the 70’s.

I knew & met Krishna from the early 90’s onwards & spent days here and there in his company & he was your picture of a typical L.A movie producer on the fringes – always passionate & full of the “positive energy” I would imagine until the very end – he had his magnum opus project – in fact he had 2, both incredibly ambitious & with epic scope & it’s sad to know that he won’t be able to see them through.

I often describe him as a Hollywood “old hand” – the breed of film producer that thrived in the 70’s as the studio system was collapsing & which led to the rise of Corman & other indies – that was really Krishnas’ era & it’s unfortunate that we don’t know more about him & his films – a Yale graduate, he directed (& wrote) episodes of “The Man from Uncle” & “Six Million Dollar Man” in the 60’s & 70’s, & later ran a successful company in L.A making & distributing the type of low-budget “Drive-In” & video tape fodder so typical of the period of the mid 70’s to the late 90’s.

I won’t dwell on any differences we might have had, in particular on the issue of retaining artistic vision against commercial concerns & the demands of the U.S market, since he was an experienced distributor with a long track record, even if I didn’t agree with his approach – Krishna maintained a positive attitude and whenever we were in touch it was always to discuss his latest projects, and I was flattered to have been taken into his confidence since he seemed to value my opinion – the last time we spoke, via Skype in 2011, he asked me if I could put him in touch with Danny Boyle🙂 – in return he was always gracious and interested in any ideas I had, the last being an ultimately unrealised “making of” graphic novel project where he granted me permission to produce a dummy based on a feature length animated film he had co-produced.

Krishna Shah wrote, produced and directed a large number of films, which in itself isn’t remarkable except for the fact that 99% of these films were for the U.S and international markets, with very much Western sensibilities & mostly what might be termed “exploitation” films, tempered with a thread of humour and satire – if you rented one of these films on VHS in the 80’s then 9 times out of 10 it was probably one of Krishnas’ – but for me his lasting legacy is in co-producing what could have been the film which kick-started the current boom in Indian animation and which ended up being mired in issues to do with versioning and authorship – and a film of which I am sure he was proud to have been a part of in spite of those issues, as I was, and still am.

Epic scope and ambition are the qualities you find in independent producers of a certain era, even if they lacked the fire-power of the major studios to pull off their visions, and Krishna typified that mindset – in his company you kind of felt that if he could charm Rex Harrison to act in a film, he could do anything – a quality he retained right to the very end with a slew of ambitious projects.

Krishna Shah – film producer, writer & director –  1938 – 2013

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0787452/bio

Damn you Newton !…

…the scene opens on a view of Planet Earth from space – a low, bass rumble is heard on the soundtrack mixed with a distant echoing lilt of a song, the words barely distinguishable and alien sounding – there’s no sound in space…

Suddenly the massive hulk of a huge spacecraft heaves into view above the Earth and lumbers across the screen right to left – letters in an alien looking script on its hull pass fullscreen, followed by recognisable letters spelling out, slowly, as they pass – “Alexander Nevsky”…The ship is some kind of orbital space station and has a militaristic air about it…

We cut abruptly to its interior – cramped, utilitarian and submarine-like – a man sits hunched over a control panel in zero-g – he is eating lunch whilst staring at a screen – the song is now clearer but still alien sounding. On the screen is a flickering monochrome image of a young Indian-looking man dressed like a tramp, singing in a carefree fashion, the words  * “Mera Jootha Hindustani” coming from his mouth…

The films singular spectator registers obvious pleasure in the film playing out in front of him and he turns and calls out to another cosmonaut nearby and shouts something in Russian which we can take as appreciation, by its tone, and we hear the name “Raj Kapoor”…

The other cosmonaut stops whatever task he is conducting & acknowledges with a wave, floating round to get a better view and tries to do a dance like the man on screen in zero-g but it’s hopeless and both men crack up in laughter – laughter which is abruptly cut off by a violent tremor which erupts somewhere in the ship sending a pulse through it, momentarily knocking out electrical systems and plunging it into darkness – the lights flicker on again as auxilliary power kicks in and both men look around in surprise…and then an alarm goes off…

Cutting to the exterior, a series of explosions rips across the hull of the Alexander Nevsky sending shards, debris and cosmonauts into space – inside in a sealed section of the ship, the cosmonauts struggle to get to grips with the problem and are thrown into confusion – the image and song of Raj Kapoor plays on as explosions get nearer.

Cutting to a wider exterior shot, a massive explosion rips apart what remains of the Alexander Nevsky, hurling debris directly into the camera view & in the silence of space all we can hear is the sound of the Raj Kapoor song, crackly and indistinct, as if through the helmet of a cosmonaut.

The last shot is of a TV screen whirling away amid debris and a fireball, into the depths of space, the image of Raj Kapoor still mysteriously alive, burned into the phosphor of the cathode ray tube until it eventually fizzles out…the last words of the song “Mera Jootha Hindustani” echoing the Russian national anthem, echo out into the ether as a full orchestral version strikes up and we realise that this is a pre-title sequence of a film…

End

…I conceived of this sequence back in the mid-80’s and it was part of what was intended to be a longer script with a rambling storyline taking in a bunch of disparate but seemingly cool (to me…) ideas inspired by films I’d seen coupled with an urge to be involved in some kind of grand visual effects type movie – with a strong element of the type of shlock sci-fi that was prevalent in the then new medium of home video – well, that and the big budget sci-fi films of that era like “2010” and “Alien”.

The strongest visual element was the sequence I’ve described above for no other reason than it felt cool – I knew that Russians were and still are, big fans of Raj Kapoor films and I wanted to do something that would bring together these kind of odd-ball facts into a main stream sci-fi movie & make it something different.

I wisely shelved it ages ago – the rest of the idea was similar to many of the ideas I had then, where writing a script was like having a tinker toy where you could bolt various “cool” ideas together and hope they would gel into something coherent – the rest of it involved a bunch of psychically-linked genetically engineered non-human super-soldiers (sort of Ninja Turtles in space…) being chased by a nefarious Government Black-Ops division and a character called “McGregor”, who was a shady wheeler dealer music producer who was trying to set up an sort of pan-galactic “Live-Aid” (this WAS the 80’s, remember…) and also wanted to get his mitts on the “Space Ninja Turtles” as members of a band…the sort of idea that might have made a terrible film and a passable story in “2000 AD” comic…:)

What’s interesting is that I just read a short synopsis of Alfonso Cuarons’ new film “Gravity” which mentions a similar sounding scenario to the opener above, right down to the use of the famous Raj Kapoor song – now I’m not saying he stole or was inspired by my idea, since it existed as typewritten notes on foolscap and maybe on my pre-internet enabled computer as a text file (now lost…) and the chances of it entering the public domain are extremely unlikely, so I can only imagine it is the result of some weird serendipity – trailers for the film look spectacularly realistic and Cuaron is a great director, so I’m looking forward to seeing it…I only hope there are no “Space Ninja Turtles” in it…or a character called “McGregor”…:)

* Footnote : For those who don’t know / have never seen or heard of Raj Kapoor before, the words to this song describe his clothes as coming from various parts of the world in (I think…) Pre-Independance India, so it had a political subtext -“Mera Jootha Hindustani” being ” My shoes from India” – and then he goes on to list (in song) his hat from Russia and so on & on – the song caught the public imagination and it’s become a classic.

The Wizard of Oz…

I’m posting some of the boards I was commissioned to do for the visual effects designer of Andrew Lloyd Webbers stage adaptation of The Wizard of Oz , John Driscoll.

It’s just opened in London (at The Palladium ) this month and is getting great reviews, with a mention of John’s work in translating some scenes from the film, into the stage version, noteably the tornado sequence.

Here they are :

The point of the board was to sell the concepts that John had in mind, to the producer / director, since he envisaged a mixture of moving image (eg CGI) projected onto semi-transparent, moveable screens and using clever lighting to create “magical” transitions – I’m curious to see the end result…