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interview with...
Piyush Dinker Pandya
& Gitesh Pandya

Piyush PandyaThe Director, Piyush Dinker Pandya, and his brother, Gitesh, are true ABCDs (American Born Confused Desis).  So what did they do about it... they made a feature length film about the topic.   Filming of the movie, ABCD, was completed this summer in Edison NJ and New York City.  It is the first Indian movie of its kind. 

How could two brothers who grew up in New Jersey during a time when the population of the Indian community was a few hundred expect to bring in tens of thousands of Indians and non-Indians to see there 'Indian-ness' on film? 

We sat down with them and found out, read what they had to say.

Interview by Satinder.


Q. Who's idea was it to create this movie and tell us about the movie

Piyush:  Mine.  It is a romantic comedy that is also a coming of age story.   It's about a second-generation Indian who seeks to run away from his Indian culture but ends up running smack into it. He winds up rooming with 3 desi  roommates and falls for an Indian girl. He comes to learn about his culture while he tries to woo her and must turn to his desi roommates for help. In addition, there are an assortment of lovable characters throughout the film.


Q. I understand you are going to be showing your film at Independent Feature Film Market in New York on September 18 at the Angelika Film Center. What are your expectations?

Gitesh: We presented American Born Confused Desi at the IFFM as a work-in-progress and were happy to see a large crowd of people in attendance. The audience was laughing along with all the jokes which was great since we weren't sure if some of the humor would translate to an American audience. Throughout the Market we were able to speak with most of the major independent film distributors so we hope to continue dialogues with them over the months ahead.


Q. How long before the general public will be able to see the film?

Piyush: Depending on when we secure distribution, we hope to have the film out by years' end or debut it in the new millennium.


Q. What are some of the most memorable moments you plan to walk away with.

Piyush: We had an outstanding cast and a very experienced crew which made the making of the film a pleasurable and memorable moments. Watching your writing turn from written words to actual live action is also quite an amazing experience.


Q. Were did you get your inspiration to make this movie.

Piyush: Well, like most good stories, there is some truth to it. The experiences of the main character (Kris Reddy) are ones that I went through. While growing up I was not too different than he is. And I also went through a similar experience of re-discovering my culture and heritage through interaction with peers which provided me with a profound understanding and appreciation for it. It opened my eyes to the beauty that was in front of me all the time. I merely took those experiences and wove them into a narrative story.  All of the characters are based on people I have met and seen living amongst the Indian community here in America. I think all Indians will identify with them and their issues. I hope also to show to mainstream American audiences, that there are other types of South Asians besides cabbies and deli owners.


Q. What's different about this movie and lets say .. Mississippi Masala or any other movie about 1st generation born Indian-Americans trying to find themselves?

Piyush: All the movies that have been made till now, have been about the immigrant experience. What is it like for an Indian who comes to America and deals with this culture. I think this has limited appeal for the general American audience.   This story is about an Indian who is basically All-American and discovers the Indian culture. This is more in line with what American audiences can relate to. They can empathize with Kris when his mother performs long religious ceremonies on him and when he meets his desi roommates. They can also travel with him through his journey into the Indian culture.


Q. Do you watch alot of movies from bollywood and what are your views about them (in general).

Piyush: Not a lot. If I do, I prefer the older films where story-telling was important. I am more interested in films by Raj Kapoor, V. Shantaram, K.A. Abbas. In the recent arena, I watch films by Subhash Ghai and Mani Ratnam.


Q. What American director do you see yourself following (if any)... someone like Spike Lee, Tim Burton, Spielberg, in the type of movies you would to make.

Piyush: I think Steven Spielberg is a master story teller (as is evidenced by his box office record). He really relates to the mass audience. He picks and tells those stories that most people want to see. I would like to tell stories that can reach such a wide audience (worldwide).


Q. Tell us about some of the actors starring in the film?

DeepPiyush: I was very fortunate in getting the cast I did. We had to juggle the shooting schedule to accommodate them but it was worth it. I think these young actors are extremely talented and have a bright future ahead of them.  Deep Katdare plays the lead character Kris Reddy and also is an Executive Producer. Deep and I have known each other for 8 years. We had always talked about working together (he as an actor and me as a writer/director).  Being South Asian, we knew there would be no available opportunities waiting for us so we decided that we would have to create our own. I had written this story many years ago and we decided it would be an appropriate vehicle to introduce our skills to the mainstream film audience. So we teamed up and formed ABCD Productions, LLC. to produce films and 'American Born Confused Desi' is our first venture.

PurvaPurva Bedi is a beautiful and talented actress. She has worked on several independent films as well as stage. She recently played a role in the stage version of 'East is East' in New York which received favorable reviews.

RonobirRonobir Lahiri also has extensive stage training and experience. He had one of the most difficult assignments in learning to play a Sikh. Like a true professional, he took to heart the task and immersed himself in trying to be as authentic as possible. He insisted on learning how to tie a turban and did it for the entire shoot. He and I were both adamant on not portraying him the way Hollywood does (stereotypically and with a fake turban). In fact, by the end of the shoot Ronobir would tie his turban in 10 minutes flat. Of course his portrayal would not have been possible without the help of my friend Satinder Sadhar who helped him with the cultural aspects.

Kal PennKal Penn is our West Coast import. He has worked on several network TV shows and was the set clown. Always keeping the mood light during the long days. I think he'll be one of the characters people will remember for a long time.

GITESH: Kal Penn will also be appearing next month in the hit television drama Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the WB network. Sunita Param is a very talented actress who began her career as Miss New York State and is now performing a lead role in the musical The Buddy Holly Story. Aladdin is a stand-up comedian who has performed all across North America and just recently opened for Chris Rock's HBO special.


Q. What is the greatest lesson you learned from your experience in movie making?

Piyush: Surround yourself with the best and the best will come out. I was very fortunate with my cast, my crew, my production team. They are all very talented and committed to helping me turn my script into a successful motion picture. They trusted my vision and I trusted their judgements. Between the two I think we've come out with something that people are really going to like.


Q. At what point will you know that the film was successful?

Piyush: I would measure success for this film by the amount people that see it. I would like to see this film play outside of the art houses and film festivals that most South Asian films have played at until now. I would like to see it in major theater chains and also the exploding Indian film theater circuit. I have always lamented that some of the films that have been made till now are not available anywhere to be seen. I was fortunate enough to see them in festivals or special screenings, but I think our films need to have a wider distribution network to get out to a wider audience.


Q.  Do you think we will start to see a wave of films about Indian-Americans since the Indian-American population is growing larger and older?

Piyush: Definitely. There are many filmmakers that are working on films now. I think in the coming months and years, you will start to see many films by  South Asians telling their stories. And we have such a diverse culture that the combination of stories are endless. It will also be interesting to see what happens when our films start fusing with commercial American films. I hope to see South Asian characters in major films, South Asian story lines, etc.


Q. Raju Sethi (founder of AVS) gave this advise to Indian film students..." 'Dream it, live it' ", what advise would you give to someone who saw your movie and had an idea?

Piyush: I think Mr. Sethi is absolutely right. I can only offer my own personal philosophy (mantra if you will) which has carried me through life and gotten me to where I am today..."Without A Dream...Why Struggle So Hard to  Succeed".

Visit the official 'American Born Confused Desi' web site.

Some images are courtesy of ABCD Productions.