As the synchronized jingle of a dozen anklets claimed center stage at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center last Saturday, I watched with giddy anticipation. There was something exhilarating about listening to the Bollywood tunes of my childhood—songs that often served as the overplayed soundtracks to family roadtrips and dinner parties—captivate an audience of nearly 2,300.
I was here to witness “Mystic India: The World Tour,” a series of high-octane dance performances that combined regional folk dancing, exuberant tributes to Hindu gods and lively renditions of Bollywood classics.
Director Ritesh Batra’s debut feature film, The Lunchbox, a charming epistolary romance set in Mumbai, is steeped in nostalgia. As it traces an unlikely relationship between a curmudgeonly widower, Saajan (Irrfan Khan) and a neglected housewife, Ila (Nimrat Kaur)—all triggered by a delivery mistake, courtesy of the city’s supposedly foolproof lunch couriers, or dabbawallahs—the film also showcases the many faces of Mumbai: a frenetic, resilient, and monsoon-pelted metropolis.
While The Lunchbox has already captured hearts outside its native India, thanks to a splashy international premiere at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival (it also screened at the Sundance Film Festival last month), it hits select theaters in New York and Los Angeles tomorrow (February 28th).
T+L caught up with Batra, who regularly shuttles between Mumbai and New York, to discuss his adventures in filmmaking.
When Greek-American filmmaker Chrysovalantis Stamelos took his first trip to Turkey in 2008, he was immediately besotted with Istanbul’s minarets, markets and countless layers of multicultural history. “I went knowing a lot about the Greek community’s past there,” Stamelos admitted, referring to grisly incidents like The Great Fire of Smyrna (present-day Izmir, a lively port city on the western peninsula of Anatolia), a monstrous blaze that prompted the systematic evacuation of Greek residents, circa 1922. “But it felt like home to me,” he continued, adding that he eventually moved from New York City to Izmir—permanently—approximately three years ago.
“Hello Anatolia,” Stamelos’s latest documentary, co-produced with Paras Chaudhari (the two launched their Queens-based production company, Crescent Street Films, in 2005) shadows Stamelos as he rediscovers the birthplace of his ancestors. “I couldn’t shake off the stories I grew up with…of old Smyrna and Asia Minor,” Stamelos recalled. Equal parts vibrant travelogue and poignant self-discovery, the film is a thoughtful blend of interviews, neighborhood exploration and artistic immersion.