The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Indian feel, American elements in universal tale

They’re American, with Indian roots and hearts. But their film is about universality and the Indianness is a character-defining element, not the basis of the story. For these first-generation Americans, brothers Anurag and Aalok Mehta, and Sheetal Sheth, it’s not about nationality, but about common problems that affect the younger generation.

Parked at The Park to promote American Chai, the trio, tracing its lineage to Gujarat, explained on Tuesday how the film was the story of a conflict between Sureel (Aalok), who wants to be a rock star, and his father (Paresh Rawal), who wants him to be a doctor. Sureel is studying music, is in a rock band and has a (white) girlfriend. His parents remain in the dark, assuming he will be graduating with a pre-med degree. Then, he falls out with the band and his girlfriend dumps him. Meanwhile, he meets Maya (Sheetal).

“It’s about falling in love, discovering your destiny and finding the courage to do what you want, as well as respecting your parents. It’s about love, life and choices. But basically, it’s about a common problem,” says Anurag, writer-director of the film. The cinema and finance graduate, born and brought up in New Jersey, wrote this film as a reflection of his college days. “But the father is definitely not like mine,” he smiles. The 30-year-old, who has worked with James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment and producer Daniel Melnick of All that Jazz fame, as well as on several independent films, stopped all work in 1999 to finish writing and start the American Chai project. This is his first directorial debut, which, he stresses, is “not like other American-Indian films”. After the initial success of the film at various festivals, it’s now gearing up for an all-India release on June 20, preceded by Aalok’s promotional gig at Someplace Else on Tuesday night and a chat session at Oxford Bookstore on Wednesay evening.

Perfect for the part of Sureel was none other than brother Aalok, a musician since age seven. The accomplished ‘keyboardist’, harmonium-player, sitar-player, guitarist and singer has, over the years, been a member of many a rock/pop band, a fact that helped him fit right into his first film role. Having scored some of the music for the film, he is also performing in shows during the Indian promotional tour of American Chai. The 27-year-old has since recorded his first full-length music album. “I loved acting,” grins Aalok, not averse to similar ventures in the future. For him, the film was “all about art”.

For Sheetal, it was her fourth foray in acting. The award-winning actress has appeared in several silver-screen and television productions, as well as in commercials. The LA-based Hollywood aspirant says it’s all about marketability. “The bottom line is money in Hollywood, and we have to convince them that Indians and Asians are just as good for a particular role as a white American. Things are changing,” says the graduate of New York University, who chose acting over basketball.

“We are trying to assimilate into the art and culture of America. But individual achievements count. Bally Sagoo paved the way for other DJs of Indian origin, and Lucy Liu Charlie’s Angel was equally important,” feels Aalok. “M. Night Shyamalan is one of the most sought-after directors. So yes, we have hope,” sums up Anurag.

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