I happen to be in Cupertino, California, this weekend during the last leg of the 3rd i’s SF International South Asian Film Festival on Saturday, November 19. Even more serendipitous, the first film I’m going to see is Korla, about a Black man in Missouri who re-imagines himself as “Indian” to eschew race based discrimination.
Korla, delves into the life of Korla Pandit, “a television pioneer and godfather of the exotica music genre.” Born John Roland Redd in St. Louis (and spending a quick stint in my hometown, Columbia) during legal segregation, Redd eventually made his way out to L.A. There, he played the piano in clubs and later, for servicemen. After getting married, he reinvented himself as a “son of a Brahmin priest from New Delhi” and pivoted his career to perform “exotica” music on TV daily.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of Korla Pandit. Back Story produced a radio segment discussing the role of passing in contemporary American history and including Korla’s story. Passing, whether it’s racially, gender identity, sexual identity, or religious, has been used to ensure safety and space to exist with fewer barriers.
I’m looking forward to watching the film, and imbibing the visuals. Especially now, after the election, when the story of Korla Pandit has the potential to resonate deeper, especially for people of color.
At this Saturday’s Cupertino film festival program, the film I’m most looking forward to is Original Copy.
My heart resides in South Asian film. My cultural upbringing is centered around understanding Indian society through its film industry. I earned a Fulbright to Sri Lanka to examine and invest myself in their film culture. And on my walls in mid Missouri are framed film posters of Sholay, Mughal-E-Azam, and Dev.D.
Original Copy is a documentary exploring the art of hand painted film posters and the magic of the single screen theater. This appeals to the one romantic part of me — the intimacy of a single screen theater.
Single screens in India are a beautiful experience that most folks eschew for the convenience and glamour of a multiplex theater. I can’t give up on them. In a globalized era, they are the theaters that reliably screen regional cinema. They sell affordable local snacks. They draw an audience that wants to be there for the movie.
I could go on for paragraphs about my love for single screens, but instead, I’d rather indulge in the magic of grounded solitude this Saturday with Original Copy. In case you can’t see Original Copy, other films that mirror these aesthetic themes are Celluloid and Harishchandrachi Factory.
If I am able to swing it, the last film I’m looking forward to watching is Between the Lines. Starring Nandita Das, Between the Lines explores the role of closing cultural gender norms on Indian romantic relationships. It’s important for folks in the Diaspora to be a part of this conversation. Our relationship models are based off 50-year-old norms, and accepting new values through art can help change the conversation.
I look forward to seeing these films on Saturday and will report back on the experience.
For the full schedule and tickets for Saturday’s film events presented by 3rd i films, visit the official website at http://www.thirdi.org/.
* * *
Sheela Lal is a government enthusiast — whether it’s in Missouri, Colombo or Kolkata. After graduating with degrees in statistics and international studies from the University of Missouri, she moved to Sri Lanka on a Fulbright Fellowship researching film culture, and the year after, to Kolkata, India to work at iMerit, a technology social enterprise. She is back in Missouri to work in good governance at Progress Missouri. Find her at @queenofblah and listen to her on the Almirah Radio Hour.