My advice to young desis, or folks looking for a career change, is to be specific about what you want out of a career in entertainment, and own it. Stay focused on why you are doing this, and strategize accordingly. — Reena Dutt
Director and producer Reena Dutt provides an insightful interview loaded with Hollywood career tips. She shares her journey on working in the Los Angelos theatre scene. Reena is a living example that you can please your desi parents while pursuing your creative ambitions.
“I considered majoring in theatre, but that is where my parents drew the line, for practical reasons.”
You’re a first-generation East-Indian American director in New York City and Hollywood. What made you want to get into this line of work? And did you have a career before films like so many creative desis?
I always enjoyed performing as a kid! My parents graciously supported it and took me for all sorts of lessons: ice skating, ballet and theatre. My parents are such a gift to me.
The reason my parents probably supported my creative ambitions is because I was a good student and well-rounded individual. Had I been a poor student, their perspective may have been different. I considered majoring in theatre in college, but that is where my parents drew the line. I entered college as an Accounting major, and thankfully fell out of interest rather quickly.
The reason my parents probably supported my creative ambitions is because I was a good student and well-rounded individual. Had I been a poor student, their perspective may have been different.
Practicality Intersects with “The Dream”
I took a class on Japanese film making for my international finance track, which was the point of no return. The beauty of visuals in Japanese film blew my mind. I changed my degree to Media Arts (Film, Television, Radio). This was the closest degree I could get that made my father feel secure in my post-graduation employment opportunities. I auditioned for all the graduate student plays, kept performing through college, and ultimately moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.
I changed my degree to Media Arts (Film, Television, Radio) – closest degree I could get that would make my father believe getting a job after graduation would be easier. In the meantime, I auditioned for all the graduate student plays, kept performing through college, and ultimately moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.
I worked odd jobs to support myself and did theatre at night. Ultimately, I went to New York to study acting in a 2-year program, filled my theatre bucket and returned to Los Angeles where my career transitioned from actor to producer and most recently director.
You’ve directed and produced for film and television. Tell us about a recent project.
My most recent filmed project as a director was a music and dance film called “Too Many Bodies.” The Parkland Massacre inspired me to create a film that removes the biases of words and allows people to have difficult conversations regarding gun reform. Gun reform has become a conversation starter at festivals across the country. The piece was ultimately seen by activist and actress Alyssa Milano(“Melrose Place”, “Charmed”) who promoted it through her company NoRA (No Rifles Association).
My most recent directing work has been seen on stage. A World War II play full of the mystique of Iceland fables, called “Defenders” by Cailin Harrison. After a four-week run, we closed in early December (2019) to a great response.
You’re a member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab in NYC and Directors Lab West in L.A. How has your experience been with these two organizations and what is your role?
Lincoln Center Directors Lab has been around for 25 years. The in-depth application process includes getting a feel for the director’s thoughts, vision and goals in the film industry through essay questions. Once you’re accepted, you surround yourself for three weeks with like-minded directors from all over the world. The lab allowed me to build friendships and allies with people who become my future think-tank of colleagues.
Directors Lab West worked in a similar process in terms of how one is accepted. The focus was more on panel discussions with local companies to learn the methods of those organizations.
Both labs create a community that expands beyond our immediate cities and brings colleagues together. It’s an invaluable way to find allies in what can be a very lonely occupation.
If you had one piece of advice to give a desi kid on breaking into the theatre/film industry what would it be?
My advice to young desis, or folks looking for a career change, is to be specific about what you want out of a career in entertainment, and own it. Stay focused on why you are doing this, and strategize accordingly. Always remember, the roles and jobs you accept, are the stories that will be seen worldwide, and will influence how people see your own community. You don’t have to say “yes” to everything. Perhaps, you will want to. Know what you say “yes” to is enabling that very content to be seen by hundreds and thousands of people that may be influenced to learn about the South Asian diaspora from your choices.
Always remember, the roles and jobs you accept, are the stories that will be seen worldwide, and will influence how people see your own community.
Is it a good time for South Asians females to enter the industry?
I think it’s a great time for anyone to enter the industry. Technology is easy to access, collaborators are a Google Hangout away, information for how to do anything is at our fingertips. You no longer need to be in LA or NYC in order to find success.
With online platforms, you can: Create whatever stories you want; be strong in your marketing tactics; find an audience that is yearning for your material.
The key is to know that any time is a good time to enter the industry, if it’s something you really want to do, and every generation has a new set of hurdles and accomplishments to achieve.
A Responsibility: Creating Conscience On and Off-Screen
Your bio states you value creating conscience on and off-screen. What does this mean to you?
“Create with a Conscience” means to proceed with awareness and empathy. It’s far too often that we’ve established a value system based on a hierarchy on sets. The director is the leader, the actors are Gods, and the assistants are the help. The reality is each of these moving parts, and everyone in between, is invaluable in making a project happen. If any part of the team is not healthy, safe, and feeling valued, the project can easily fall apart. When I say to create with a conscience, I mean to be respectful of the needs of everyone who has joined your team.
This goes for storytelling as well. As an example, if I’m going to tell a story about gun violence, I’m going to pay my respects to survivors or families who have lost loved ones. Whether it’s a trigger warning before it begins, or resources to help others in my marketing and publicity materials, do something to show you care about the subjects you discuss.
The next play Reena Dutt is working on is written by the esteemed playwright, Madhuri Shekar, called “Antigone, Presented by the Girls of Saint Catherine’s” and opens March 2020 in Los Angeles (produced for Sacred Fools by Jax Ball). It is a pre #MeToo era story set in the 1990s centered around girls of a Catholic school faced with making a choice to speak out against a teacher who betrays them in unforgivable ways.
Reena Dutt’s theater work has been seen in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. She has directed at A Noise Within in conjunction with East West Players (staged reading of Snow in Midsummer by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig), the Road Theatre (staged reading of Kissing Che by Augusto Federico Amador), and Sacred Fools (staged reading of Monkey Love by Madhuri Shekar).Prior to that she was an assistant director for Jo Bonney at The Geffen Playhouse on Jose Rivera’s world premiere of The Untranslatable Secrets of Nikki Corona, and Dramaleague’s Jennifer Chang on the Fountain Theatre’s Los Angeles premiere of Hannah and the Dread Gazebo. Dutt also directs for film and television and has an extensive producing history. Dutt is a member of the Lincoln Center Directors’ Lab (New York City), Directors Lab West (Los Angeles), and a Semi-Finalist for Dramaleague’s Hangar Directing Fellowship.She is a graduate of the Media Arts program at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and the acting program at William Esper Studio, New York. To connect with Reena visit wwww.reenadutt.com
It’s never a dull moment with your girl gang; some shots and conversations about sex, right? If you agree, you’re in for a treat with Karan Boolani’s directorial venture, “Thank You For Coming,” which had its world premiere at the 48th annual Toronto International Film Festival. This coming-of-age story unapologetically begs the answer to a very important question: Why should women be left high and dry in bed?
Kanika Kapoor (Bhumi Pednekar) is a successful, 32-year-old, Delhi food blogger who makes a huge revelation on her 30th birthday: She’s never experienced an orgasm. This dirty little secret (no pun intended!) has now become detrimental to her self-esteem. She feels so down and out that she even accepts the proposal of a very boring suitor, Jeevan-ji (Pradhuman Singh Mall).
But, it’s not like she hasn’t tried. Kanika’s been a monogamist since her teenage years, starting with puppy love in high school — unfortunately, their sexual endeavors coined her as “thandi” (cold) by her first boyfriend — all the way to dating in her adulthood. But, regardless of how great any relationship was, nobody had her achieve the big O. All until the night of her engagement with Jeevan, when the drunk bride-to-be leaves the party for her hotel room and gets into bed. What follows is her very first orgasm. Ghungroo, finally, tute gaye! But, with whom?
The morning after, an initially-satisfied Kanika works herself into a frenzy of confusion and frustration as she makes her way through the list of potential men who could’ve been in her room the night before.
Was it one of her exes? She’d simply invited them to come to wish her well.
Was it her fiance?
Or, God forbid, was it actually the rabdi-wala (ice cream man)?
Boolani takes a straight-forward and on-the-nose approach to drive the point home. There are no cutting corners, no mincing words, and no hovering over “taboo topics.” The dialogue is raunchy, the characters are horny, and no one is apologetic. It’s important for a film like “Thank You For Coming” to be so in-your-face because the subject of women achieving orgasms can’t really be presented in any other way. Anything more conservative in the narrative would feel like the makers are being mindful of addressing something prohibited. And there is no room for taboos here.
But, there is room for a more open conversation on the reasons why many women feel the need to suppress their sexual needs in bed; how generally, women have been brought up to be the more desirable gender and hence not cross certain boundaries that would make them appear too brash. The fight for the right of female pleasure would have been a little more effective if the modesty around the topic was addressed. But, that doesn’t mean that the point is remiss.
The plot moves swiftly along, never lulling too long over everything that seems to be going wrong in Kanika’s life. “Thank You For Coming” is full of all the right tropes that belong in a comedic, masala film, too; the direction very seamlessly takes classic fixings like the abhorrent admirer (enter Jeevan-ji) and effectively plugs them into this contemporary feature that will remain perpetually relevant.
And now, let’s come to the star of the show: the well-rounded characters.
Producer Rhea Kapoor has mastered the formula of a good chick flick and her casting is the magic touch. She’s got a knack for bringing together the right actors — cue, “Veere Di Wedding.” So, just when we think that it doesn’t get better than the veere, Kapoor surprises us with a refreshing trio — they’re modern, they’re rebellious, and they say it like it is. Thank you, Dolly Singh (Pallavi Khanna) and Shibani Bedi (Tina Das) for being the yin to Kanika’s yang — and for the bag full of sex toys your homegirl oh-so needed!
To complete Kanika’s story, we have her single mother, Miss. Kapoor, brilliantly portrayed by Natasha Rastogi. She is the face of a headstrong and self-assured matriarch and a symbol of the modern-day Indian woman. Rastogi’s character exemplifies the fact that with access to education, and a stable career, women do not need to mold their lives around men.
I love the fact that Miss. Kapoor is almost villainized by her own mother (played by Dolly Ahluwalia) in the film because she had a child out of wedlock in her yesteryears, she chooses to remain single, and she brings her boyfriends around the house to hang out with. But, there’s a point to be made here. The fact that Kanika’s mother is being antagonized just highlights that she is challenging the norms and pushing the envelope for what is socially acceptable for women. Miss. Kapoor definitely deserves an honorable mention.
Pednekar’s unexpected yet impeccable comic timing is the highlight of the entire film. Everything from being a damsel in sexual distress to a woman who unabashedly chases self-pleasure, Pednekar puts on a genuinely entertaining act for the audience. From being portrayed as a high-schooler to the 32-year-old, independent woman, Pednekar is fit for each role. Her naivety as a teen wins you over, as does her gusto as a full-blown adult with a broken ankle and some very messy relationships. This also speaks volumes about the versatility of her looks.
And, of course, Pednekar is not new to films that address social topics, but “Thank You For Coming” challenges her to balance Kanika’s droll with the responsibility of delivering a very important message to the viewers. Mission accomplished, Ms. Pednekar!
“Thank You For Coming” is a through-and-through entertainer. Everything from the casting — a huge shout out to the rest of the supporting cast including Anil Kapoor, Shehnaaz Gill, Karan Kundra, Kusha Kapila, Gautmik, and Sushant Divkigar, without whom this roller coaster would have lacked the thrills — to the homey locations and even the glitz and glamor in the song sequences, they’re all perfect pieces to help drive home a powerful message: Smash patriarchy!
“Ghoomer,” R. Balki’s latest directorial venture, had its world premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2023 (IFFM), earlier this month, and the moment was nothing short of memorable. Lead actors Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi, were present to unveil their labor of love to the world, and all three were left speechless at the reaction of the global audience; the film received a standing ovation on opening night, leaving the team extremely emotional — a feeling that Bachchan tells Brown Girl is one he cannot put into words.
“Ghoomer,” tells the story of Anina (played by Kher), an exceptional cricket player who loses her right hand in an accident. Downtrodden and with no will to live, Anina finds a mentor and coach in Padam Singh Sodhi (played by Bachchan), an insensitive and brash failed cricketer who helps her turn her life and career around; Anina also has the unwavering support of her husband, Jeet (played by Bedi). Sodhi teaches Anina unorthodox techniques to make her mark on the cricket ground once again. Enter, ghoomer, a new style of bowling.
Balki checks all the boxes with this feature — his protagonist is a female athlete, the film is his way of giving back to cricket (a new form of delivery), and he highlights the idea that nothing is impossible for paraplegic athletes. The heart of Balki’s film is in the right place — Kher mentions that the film is meant to be more of an inspirational movie and less of a sports-based movie. One can only imagine the impact that a film like this would have on an audience that’s hungry for meaningful cinema.
And, to chat more about “Ghoomer,” Brown Girl Magazine sat down with the stars of the show. Bachchan, Bedi, and Kher came together to talk about their inspiring characters, the filming journey, and how their film aspires to change the landscape of cricket and paraplegic athletes in the country. It was all that, with a side of samosas.
Take a look!
The featured image is courtesy of Sterling Global.
It’s always a flamboyant affair of colour, emotions and grandeur when Karan Johar directs a film, and his latest blockbuster “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” is as K Jo as it gets. After recently being recognised at the British House of Parliament for 25 years as a filmmaker, Johar is back to doing what he does best — bringing together families and star-crossed lovers, but this time with a modern touch. He makes a decent attempt at showcasing progressive ideals and feminist issues while taking us on this family-friendly ride.
“Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani” is a larger-than-life film revolving around the love story of a boisterous Rocky (Ranveer Singh) from a wealthy Delhi family, and Rani (Alia Bhatt), a sharp journalist from a progressive Bengali household. And of course, despite belonging to completely different backgrounds and lives, our protagonists, in true Bollywood fashion, fall hopelessly in love through a string of slow-motion gazes, warm embraces and some truly breath-taking song sequences in Kashmir’s snowy mountains. They are then forced to face their opposing families which brings along the family drama in the second half of the film.
The plot is not the film’s strongest point — there’s no real surprise about what’s going to happen next, and yet the film doesn’t fail to keep audiences engaged and pack an emotional punch. This is down to its strong acting, witty dialogues and K Jo’s classic, beautiful cinematography.
Ranveer Singh sinks into the skin of his character with ease – not only does he make the hall burst into laughter with the help of perfectly-timed gags but he pulls off those dreamy gazes ,expected in K Jo’s heroes, to evoke that typical, fuzzy-feeling kind of Bollywood romance. Alia Bhatt’s intelligent and undefeated character is no less a pleasure to watch on screen — not only does she look breath-taking in every shot but her feminist dialogues earn claps and cheers from the audience as she brings a progressive touch to this family drama.
Albeit, while Bhatt’s dialogues do their best to steer this film to the reformist drama it hopes to be, some of Singh’s gags and monologues on cancel culture bring out bumps in the road. The film could have done better to reinforce its points on feminism and racism without using the groups it tries to support as the butt of jokes.
There is also a case to be made about how long these Punjabi and Bengali stereotypes can go on with often gawkish displays of Ranveer’s ‘dilwala-from-Delhi’ character among the overly-polished English from Rani’s Bengali family. But it is with the expertise of the supporting cast, that the film is able to get away with it. Jaya Bachchan in particular is as classy as ever on screen; the stern Dadi Ji holds her ground between the two lovers, while Dada Ji Dharmendra, and Thakuma Shabana Azmi, tug at our heartstrings showing that love truly is for all ages.
Saving the best to last, it is the film’s cinematography that makes the strongest case for audiences to flock to the cinema. The soul-stirring songs steal the show with their extravagant sets and powerful dance performances that treat the audiences to the much-awaited cinematic experience of a K Jo film. While audiences may already be familiar with the viral songs, “What Jhumka?” and “Tum Kya Mile“, it was the family-defying fight for love in “Dhindhora Baje Re” that really gave me goosebumps.
Overall, the film does exactly what it says on the tin and is a family entertainer with something for everyone. It will make you laugh, cry, and cringe at times, but nothing leaves you feeling as romantic as some old school Bollywood with a mix of new school humour, in true K Jo form.