"We realised one story would never do justice to all we had to say about life in America. So we decided, why not tell a few of those stories in one movie?" explains Krishna, about Flavors.
And the reason why multiple stories run parallel and interconnect at various points in the movie is simply to reinforce one simple view, says Raj: the world is small.
The two have known each other since their college days at Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati. In America, the two founded dreams2reality Films, and directed the one-hour feature shaadi.com. Entrepreneur Anupam Mittal, who owns the portal shaadi.com, also produced the feature.
The three then got together to make Flavors. "This movie is not about getting a Green Card or a bunch of techies going through a layoff period,'' notes Krishna. "So far, all so-called non-resident Indian movies have been about so-called ABCDs. We didn't really want to dwell on cultural differences. The subject has been done to death. There is a small element of that aspect in our movie - getting used to life in America, the differences. We wanted to go beyond that. One theme we explore is: We're here, so it's about getting used to it."
Excerpts from an interview between Raj and Arthur J Pais:
Why should people see your film?
What do you expect Indians in America to get out of this film?
Since Flavors is an ensemble film, there are plenty of characters Indians can identify with, relate to and laugh with. Each of the characters has been very carefully conceived and developed, so they are not stereotypical. They're just like you or me. Minus the boring parts, of course. The kind you will watch and say, "Hey, I know someone just like that!"
And non-Indians, particularly Americans?
We hope Americans realise we are just like them. To give you just an example: the audience at the Asian American International Film Festival was a diverse mix that included Americans and South East Asians. The unanimous response we got from all of them was that they had a great time, and that they totally identified with the characters in the film. So it's not just the Indians we are aiming at. The characters of Flavors could be from any part of the world.
How long did you work on the script?
It took us [Krishna and I] about 10 months. The actual shooting took about five weeks. We shot mostly in New Jersey, with a few shots in Austin.
How did you consult each other during scripting?
Mostly over the telephone and over the Internet. We also met several times in Austin [where Krishna is based] and Detroit [where Raj is based]. In fact, the cast and crew of Flavors ranges from Canada, Mumbai, Europe and all over America. The Internet has helped a great deal in making this movie happen.
What care did you take while scripting the film?
We did not want stereotypes in either characters or situations. We wanted a realistic, yet entertaining ending. People don't necessarily have to walk arm-in-arm into the sunset. Problems don't necessarily have to be solved before The End. Things don't change overnight - it takes time. We just had to take care to make it cinematically appealing and light-hearted.
We also wanted to portray Indians in a positive manner. That worked in our favour because now is a great time for anything Indian, including Indian cinema. We wanted people to embrace Indians.
The American woman in the film, Jenni, who is getting married to an Indian, is unlike white characters seen in many Indian movies. Was that deliberate?
Right. She is not a caricature. Actually, Krishna and I wanted to portray a sensitive character. Jenni [played by Jicky Schnee] just happens to be American - she is a character by herself. She is open to experiencing another culture. Though she accepts some of her soon-to-be in-laws' requests, she doesn't do it without hesitation.
The mother who is visiting her soon-to-be married son declares to her would-be daughter-in-law that people fall in love but don't have boyfriends in India. This is not true.
Of course, it is not. And the mother's character [played by Bharati Achrekar] knows it too. It's just her way of subtly telling Jenni that she doesn't approve of premarital relationships and that if two people are in love, she wants to see them married ASAP. Basically, she's just being a mother [laughs].
You mentioned there are several dark edges to your characters.
Yes. Just like in life, not every character is black or white. In Flavors, there is a person who has a secret. People normally share joys and sorrows with close ones, but he decides to keep it all to himself. We wanted to show characters that are not one-dimensional.
Since Krishna and you are credited as directors, who calls the final shots?
I say 'action' and Krishna says 'cut.'
In practical terms, how do you operate?
We discuss and plan each shot. Once we are sure what we want, I deal with the actors for the most part and Krishna works with the technical crew.
You still hold consulting jobs and work on films alongside. Do you plan to carry on like this?
Not for long, hopefully. Krishna and I plan to quit our tech jobs and get into movies full time.
What kind of a film would your next film be?
We are not sure whether we want to make a film in Mumbai or here [in the US]. But it may not deal entirely with NRI issues as our past two films have done.
But it will have NRI characters?
Quite likely. We are wrestling with several ideas. Let's see how they shape up. At the moment, our energies are geared towards the theatrical release of Flavors. Hopefully, that will be very soon!
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