Thursday, October 15, 2015

In Praise of Indian Cinema

Actors not only love performing in film but we love watching and studying them. In fact, many of us develop an almost encyclopedic knowledge of classic films and the technique of directors, cinematographers, and our fellow performers. Fortunately for me my husband is also a cinephile and each week, as our schedules permit, we view one or two films in theaters and stream several more.

Recently we stumbled into a couple of Indian films that really impressed us. I say "stumbled" because the first - Bajrangi Bhaijaan - was posted at the theater with only its Hindi title; no poster, no screen shots, no plot summary. We took a chance on it because we 'd been impressed by such actors as Irrfan Khan and his story-driven films The Namesake and The Lunchbox. (Also, we rather like the energetic dancing and singing so characteristic of the Bollywood films coming out of Mumbai.)

Bajrangi Bhaijaan, with Indian mega-star Salman Khan, turned out to be one of the best films we'd seen in years. It's about a mute little girl from Pakistan who gets separated from her mother in India, and the man who takes it upon himself to find out where she's from and take her home, all of which is complicated by the political tensions between the two countries. We laughed, we cried, we were on the edge of our seats for 2 hours and 45 minutes (yes, Indian films run long, but you don't notice). It's a terrific film and the little girl is wonderfully appealing. Big stars take a risk in appearing with scene-stealing children, but here Khan holds his own in a role that shows his human side, and the kid really sells it.

Child actress Harshaali Malhotra with Salman Khan
Having had such a good experience with this film, we took a chance on another - Baahubali - the first of a two-part saga on the order of Lord of the Rings. It was epic and riveting, and its star - Prabhas - the kind of muscle-man who is also sexy.

Indian cinema has come into its own and with better promotion could crossover to a general American audience. The production values are extremely good; in fact, we loved these two so much we saw them twice in the theater and plan to purchase them on disk as soon as they're available.

So, we've become fans. We recognize many of the stars (even though most seem to be named "Khan.")

Salman Khan has a new film coming out in U.S. theaters in mid-November - Prem Ratan Dhan Payo.  We can hardly wait.

Witches, The Play

This past summer I had the pleasure of appearing in "Witches," a fantasy comedy by talented actor/playwright Scott Courlander for the Capital Fringe Festival. Fringe Festivals present a wonderful opportunity to premier new works with minimalist staging, and each summer more than a hundred plays and other kinds of performances, involving more than 500 actors and entertainers, get a sneak preview here in the nation's capital.

It is worth noting that  Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, and Stephen Fry got their start in 1981 in just such a festival - albeit a somewhat larger one, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival - and the rest is history.

"Witches," a play about a sleepy princess found in an enchanted wood and awakened by three witches with hilarious results, is one of many Courlander has produced through his company, Red Knight Productions. It was not only great fun to do (I earned "Favorite Performance" honors from DC Metro Theater Arts for my portrayal of the witch Beatrice) but I'm hoping it will go on to full staging and great success (in which case, I can boast that I appeared in the premier).

Here I am with actor Stephen Mead, who played The Jester.