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Jay Sean: Bollywood, Fatherhood And The Return To His Roots

Jay Sean return to the UK, talking cash money records and Zayn Malik

“You have to create your own opportunities and pray that luck and destiny is on your side…”

Undoubtedly the most successful British-Asian popstar of all time, Jay Sean (aka Kamaljit Singh Jhooti) talks to The NRI about his new album, the secret to his success and how he came about giving Zayn Malik from One Direction one of his first breaks.

What were the main inspirations behind the new album?

The Mistress II is really a return to my roots and my love for R&B. Every single song on there is an R&B record. There’s nothing that’s overthought – it’s all very organic in terms of the writing and the feeling.

Did fatherhood affect the feel and tone of the music?

No effect whatsoever. I’ve actually become even raunchier with my music since becoming a Dad, so it clearly didn’t affect it! Being a Dad just affected my work ethic in a wonderful way, and made me so much more about the business. It’s not only about me now, but my baby too.

Does your time away from home for music tours and press tours like this make it even worse?

It’s hard being away from the baby, man. I didn’t see her this morning as I had to leave before she woke up, and then when I get home she’ll be asleep. Believe it or not, when she wakes up in the middle of the night, though most people would get irritated, I actually get happy because it’s the first time I see her! It’s only difficult in this particular moment of time, as it’s been a bit tense with the amount of interviews I get, but normally I get good daddy time with her.

Read the rest of the interview at The-NRI.com.

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SWAMI: Global Desi Groove Pioneers

Swami hugely influenced by James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Michael Jackson.

Swami is back with new single “Do It Again”, hailed by Bobby Friction as “the future of Asian pop music”.

True veterans of the ‘Asian Underground’ scene of the UK, music band Swami have been going strong for 14 years now. After a 4 year hiatus, Swami are now returning with a new album that’s been prepped with a view towards world domination. The NRI took the opportunity to speak to S-Endz, who handles vocals and keys for the band, about the band’s return and how they’ve successfully kept their sound relevant after so many years.

Your new album UPGRADE has taken 4 years to get made. Why such a long wait?

We certainly didn’t anticipate it would take 4 years. It just became a much harder challenge than we’d originally thought. We did a hits compilation back in 2009 called “5 3 4 3 1”. The label at the time, Virgin EMI, asked for a couple of new songs, so we recorded tracks like Sugarless and TonightSugarless became quite an unexpected success for us, and kind of dictated what direction we wanted to take with the next album.

I think we may have bit off more than we can chew, because for every new song that we wrote for the new album, we decided to do an English version alongside the Punjabi version. Somewhere further down the line, we ended making some good contacts in the Bollywood scene in Mumbai, so we decided to do some Hindi versions as well. So our new single Do It Again,for example, has got Punjabi, Hindi, and English lyrics. Sur, our lead singer, had never sung in Hindi before, but he picked it up really quickly.

Trying to find the right balance for the songs and trying to make something that works for our global fanbase was very difficult. So that’s probably why this album has taken such a long time to make. But we’re here now!

How are responsibilities divided between the group?

It’s a group effort, really.  Me and Liana write mainly in English. Diamond writes in English and bits in Punjabi. Sur writes in Punjabi, and bits in Hindi and English. We all contribute individually and then we see what works together. What we found with this album was that the writing was an even split on most of the songs. There are a few songs where one may have written most of it, but Do It Again was in particular a group effort.

Which music artists influence the sound of Swami?

My personal influences as a songwriter are Prince, Michael Jackson and Joni Mitchell. The use of metaphors and different textures of writing appeals to me. I know Diamond is a great fan of Jimi Hendrix, which contributes a lot to his songwriting style. In terms of beats, we listen to a lot of hard electronic house music and dance music as well. If you look on our Facebook page, there’s a massive list of all our separate influences and combined ones.

Read the rest of the interview at The-NRI.com.

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Film Review: Happy New Year

Happy New Year with Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Abhishek Bachchan, Sonu Sood, Boman Irani and Vivaan Shah

An abysmal first half gives way to an unexpectedly entertaining second half. Plotholes galore, so pure Farah Khan.

A corrupt boxer (Shah Rukh Khan), a partially-deaf pyrotechnics expert (Sonu Sood), an old fat retiree (Boman Irani), a young hacker (Vivaan ‘son of Naseeruddin’ Shah), a drunkard (Abhishek Bachchan) and a bar dancer (Deepika Padukone) join forces to take down Charan Grover (Jackie Shroff), their shady millionaire adversary. By stealing his diamonds. Through partaking in the World Dance Championships. Obviously.

If you plan to watch this film, do yourself a favour and leave your brain at home. There are more holes in the plot of this film than an acre-sized net to catch tadpoles. What’s the point of the gang learning to dance when they basically con their way into winning everything? Why is a “graduate topper” incapable of finding a job anywhere, whiling his time away boxing in fixed fights? How doesn’t the judge of a dancing competition realise that one of the dancers of the team representing his country looks exactly like his son? Why would two professional dancers try and kick each other off the roof of a skyscraper whilst nobody batters an eyelid? And why does a drop-dead-gorgeous dancer continue to fall in love with a guy who treats her like rubbish?

Regardless of his gratuitous six-pack abs, Shah Rukh’s ‘Charlie’ defines a-hole to the nth degree. When he’s not manipulating his own teammates, he’s preventing better innocent dance teams to compete, who’ve probably been working non-stop for years for their moment to shine. And then there’s the fact he has no qualms of putting the son of his adversary away for life, who’s not even culpable of the crime his father committed. The plothole list could go on, but we’d actually reach a new year by the end of it.

The first half of the film is an unnecessarily drawn-out introduction to the characters in the same humourless vein of a Salman Khan flick. Charlie goes about recruiting his team, each with their own reasons to partake – either for decent monetary reasons (saving an ill mother, starting a dance school) or vengeance for the wrongs Charan did to Charlie’s father. Deepika’s ‘Mohini’ (a tribute to Madhuri in Tezaab) is brought in to teach the team how to dance for real, though the truth is that they never truly need to use their dancing skills to get the diamonds they want. So why do they really need Deepika in the team? Because romantic interludes. Because girl power. Because hot. Because despite not needing her character, she’s probably the best thing about the film.

Read the rest of the review at The-NRI.com.

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“It’s a great thing to be different – that’s what makes us interesting!” ~ An Interview with Kalki Koechlin

With her film Margarita With A Straw set to screen at Leicester Square for the London Film Festival, I got a chance to meet the delightful Kalki Koechlin and speak to her about her challenge in portraying a character with Cerebral Palsy, her thoughts on returning to the city from which she graduated and…umm…Benedict Cumberbatch…. Read the full interview in print at The-NRI.com or watch my one-to-one with the radiant beauty below. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fazfkl_TFxs]

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Shah Rukh, Deepika, Abhishek, Boman, Farah, Sonu, Vivaan… SLAM!

Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Boman Irani, Abhishek Bachchan, Vivaan Shah, Farah Khan, Sonu Sood

Shah Rukh Khan: “I think the most important thing when you do live shows is how everyone gets along. We’ve all been hanging out for one amazing year making this film, so it was easy to be with such people who are now like family.”

Reaching the final leg of their SLAM tour, the cast and director of Happy New Year tell us their thoughts on the tour, the film and the process…

Their hopes for their final foreseeable Slam performance:

Shah Rukh: I don’t think any of us have ever performed live on such a big stage. When you make a film like this and you have a team like this, it’s just a good excuse to go out with the whole team and enjoy yourself. I think the most important thing when you do live shows is how everyone gets along.

Abhishek: The last time I was at the O2 with my family and now I’ve come with an even bigger family – that’s the only difference.

Vivaan: It’s an amazing experience to be, in a way, ambassadors to our country, to represent our country; which is very much in the spirit of the film as that’s what we’re doing in the film – representing India. It’s a great honour to be here.

Boman: We have people from all different age groups from the youngest to the oldest. I’m bringing the sex appeal.

Farah: The tour has been amazing. We’ve saved the best for last.

Vivaan Shah at Happy New Year Slam Tour London Press Conference.

“Working on the film has been an absolutely life changing experience. To stand on stage and perform with all of them is just electrifying and exhilarating.”

Their relationship with London:

Farah: The first time I came to London was to take part in the World Dance Championship in 1986 at The Hippodrome – I was very young then. So that makes Happy New Year even more special because it’s all about the World Dance Championship.

Shah Rukh: London has always been the pioneer in terms of the Diaspora taking our films to the level that they have achieved. We are stars because of all the people here in London and Britain who have appreciated and backed our films. Personally this is my favourite city in the world, for many reasons. Apart from the weather.

Abhishek Bachchan at Happy New Year Slam Tour London Press Conference.

“The last time I was at the O2 was with the family and now I’ve come with an even bigger family – that’s the only difference.”

The things they look at before saying yes or no to a film:

Abhishek: I feel that every film has its own destiny and trajectory. You shouldn’t choose a film based on what kind of marketing budget is available. I choose films because if my friends are in it, I want to be a part of it. We are not in control of the fate of our films but we are in control of the process of making those films a very memorable one.

Deepika: Every new film that I do is an independent decision that has nothing to do with the films that I’ve done previously. You choose it for whatever reason. For me it’s primarily about the script. Do I enjoy it? Is it a story I want to tell? Is the character exciting and challenging me? I want to be part of an exciting project and an amazing experience more than anything else. I think that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learnt whilst being in this industry: that there is nothing more important than enjoying the process of making a film. You can work with the biggest co-stars and the biggest directors, but if you don’t enjoy that process it’s not worth it.

Deepika Padukone at Happy New Year Slam Tour London Press Conference.

Deepika Padukone on Shah Rukh Khan: “If I can do something better, he’ll tell me. He’s someone I trust a lot. If he says something to me, I won’t question it.”

Deepika on working with Shah Rukh for a third time:

Every time you work on a film with a new co-star, you have to go through the process of getting to know them and their process of how they work on set. But when you work with someone like Shah Rukh – and I think we’ve done some really special things together – it just makes that process much easier. If I can do something better, he’ll tell me. He’s someone I trust a lot. If he says something to me, I won’t question it.

Happy New Year Shah Rukh Khan French fan gift

A fan came all the way from France to give King Khan a gift…

Shah Rukh on being presented the Global Diversity Award earlier in the day at the House of Commons:

In terms of what there is left for me to achieve, I feel that I have achieved all that I wanted to. Now all I want to do is entertain. I want to make people smile, be happy, to laugh, and once in a while reply to journalists’ questions. I want to give back to the audience that has given me so much again and again. I am so grateful and extremely humbled for all of the awards that have been bestowed upon me. Sometimes I feel I don’t fully deserve it, but it makes me want to work harder, to do bigger and better, to just keep on giving a little more than I’ve given in the last 23 years.

Shah Rukh Khan, Farah Khan and Boman Irani at Happy New Year Slam Tour London Press Conference.

Boman Irani: “Some of the people here haven’t performed a world tour in 5-10 years. I haven’t performed a world tour in 55 years.”

Their most life-changing experiences:

Farah: The first time that Shah Rukh told me that he was going to make Main Hoon Na with me.  Coming from a being a choreographer, I instantly became a filmmaker overnight. Also when I had my kids at the age of 43. When you have kids, life keeps changing regularly. I also hope Happy New Year will be a life changing experience for me as a director.

Boman: I was 35 years old whenI did my first play as a theatre actor. I was suddenly required to travel abroad for the first time in my life. Within a week, I had to pull some strings to get a passport in order to come to London to audition for something. So the first city I visited outside of my country was London. It kind of opened my eyes to a completely new world, a completely new place and opportunity..

Abhishek: Like for many actors who get their first big break, when Mr Dutta offered me my first film (Refugee with Kareena Kapoor).

Vivaan: Working on Happy New Year has been an absolutely life changing experience. Touring with them has just taken it to another level. To stand on stage and perform with all of them is just electrifying and exhilarating. I don’t have words to describe it.

Abhishek Bachchan at Happy New Year Slam Tour London Press Conference.

“We have a habit of gatecrashing each other’s shows. It’s a bit of a stage tradition in India.”

Why Bollywood tours are so rare these days:

Boman: Some of us haven’t performed a world tour in 5-10 years. I haven’t performed a world tour in 55 years.

Shah Rukh: When you do a world tour of this magnitude, it should be bigger and better than before – productionwise and technologically. It should be a happy moment for South Asians everywhere. It’s taken me 10 years to return – I was waiting for Abhishek and Deepika to grow up. And for Vivaan to be born.

Shah Rukh Khan and Boman Irani at Happy New Year Conference SlamUK Slam Tour London

Shah Rukh Khan: “It’s taken me 10 years to do a world tour again – I was waiting for Abhishek and Deepika to grow up. And for Vivaan to be born.”

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Film Review: Margarita With A Straw

Kalki Koechlin in Margarita With A Straw

Awards-worthy performance by Kalki, and an important message on the definition of ‘normality’ is let down by an unsatisfying resolution.

Margarita With A Straw tells the story of Laila – a young woman with cerebral palsy on a journey of self-discovery and sexuality. The film starts with Laila living a familiar student lifestyle: writing lyrics for a rock band, longing after the opposite sex and logging onto pornographic websites (so I’ve heard). However, when a love interest rebuffs her, she takes an opportunity to leave Delhi to study a course in creative writing in New York, where she further explores her sexuality in the forms of British coursemate prettyboy Jared (played by Chronicles of Narnia’s William Moseley) and blind activist Khanum (played by Sayani Gupta, previously seen in Q’s Tasher Desh).

Essaying the role of the protagonist, Kalki refrains from going OTT and gives an honest, endearing portrayal of the alienated Laila, with writer/director Shonali Bose giving her enough of a three-dimensional character and rarely allowing her to come across as victimized. Indeed, there are quite a few actions that Laila takes in the film that could come across as unsympathetic and downright evil for the audience. But then this is what makes the film so enticing and unique. Though we feel compassion towards Laila’s attempts to be accepted as ‘normal’, never does the film feel like it’s manipulating our heartstrings.

However, what doesn’t come across as subtle is the amount of diversity boxes being ticked here. In addition to cerebral palsy, we have blindness, wheelchairs, a lesbian affair with a Pakistani and potential interracial affairs with both white and Assamese boys. The point that director Bose pushes – to embrace diversity – is a much required one, but with such an amount of diversity on screen, it sometimes takes away from plausibility and feels coincidental.

Nonetheless, the film keeps us hooked with each turn it takes, with the viewer waiting on tenterhooks to see how the story unfolds. But unfortunately, the way in which secrets are finally revealed and the way in which they are handled come across too simplistically and serve as unsatisfying resolutions. Once we reach the final reel of Laila’s self-discovery, we’re left not knowing how the preceding events have led Laila to her discovery, or in fact what she has actually discovered.

Read the rest of the review at The-NRI.com.

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“We Love To Fuck Around With The Actors!”

Kanu Behl began as an assistant director to Dibaker Bannerjee on Oye Lucky Lucky Oye! before reprising his role for LSD, as well as writing the screenplay for the film. With Titli, his first feature film as writer-director, currently wowing the festival circuit worldwide, I sat down with him at the London Film Festival and spoke to him about how the film came about, how he created his own distinct directing style, and his most important lesson from his mentor, Dibaker Bannerjee. Watch the full video interview playlist below or read the interview in print at The-NRI.com.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BBufzVF9hM?list=PLZgfNmKipXIJNapxhQn-VdjZUc5QSMYO8]

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