I popped over to my local picture hall in Silicon Valley to catch the first show of a new Bollywood film. This was director Rahul Dholakia’s  Raees starring  Shah Rukh Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Mahira Khan. All I knew about Raees is that it is a thriller loosely based on a underground criminal or a gangster from Gujarat, India. And thanks to the PR folks I got to see a trailer of Raaes and  Laila Main Laila song featuring Sunny Leone and Khan. So, on the strength of those video clips I made-up my mind to go watch the film.

So, there I was in line to buy my ticket & for brief moment  I flirted with the idea of watching the other new Bollywood film Kaabil. I dismissed the idea. I was astonished to see there were over 100 people in the 250 seater theater. Now, this is not a common sight. Generally there will be 10 t0 20 people for the first show of a new film. I noticed a senior gentleman sitting to the left of me and was pleasantly surprised to discover he was originally from Croatia. He was there to watch the  film because Bollywood films have something for everyone and they are easy to access he said. And, my neighbor to the right was a hard-core Shah Rukh fan, who ended up sharing her packet of biscuits with me.

We all settled down to watch the film and were all lost in our own world for the next 142 minutes. Set in Gujarat the film is a potent mix of prohibition, criminals, good cop, bad cops and two-timing politicians. Raees sounds promising especially since it pits a large-hearted criminal bootlegger Raees (Khan) with a unique code of ethics against a good and conscientious cop Majumdar (Siddiqui). The film’s storyline is almost like the Angry Young Man genre films made famous by Amitabh Bachchan. But, that was just in the first blush like I discovered. Raees is a very different film.

Raees begins in a strong manner. We meet a young Raees, who has already got his feet wet in the bootlegging business. It comes as no surprise  that Raees ends up with his own bootlegging business that quickly become hugely profitable. Raees gets married, becomes a father and life is good. So far so good. But good things have a way of fizzing out and that is what happens to Raees, who hits one speed bump after another. His fellow gangsters and politicians betray him. The only person who comes to his rescue is the good cop Majumdar, who warns him to stay out of trouble. And, of course Raees cannot stay out of trouble and that proves to be his Achilles heel and costs his life.

Dholakia does a great job of highlighting the nexus between criminals-politicians-cops and how they work together. He does a good job of fleshing out Raaes’s character, but fails to do that for Majumdar’s character.The first half of the picture held my attention, but the the second half of the film was riddled with “loopholes,” as my neighbor sitting to my right put it. And for good measure she added that the songs in the film were “time wasting.” I agree with her that not all the songs in the film worked. They should have stuck to the narrative and tied all the loose ends together. There were loopholes and continuity issues in the film. Take the fact that Raees wife is pregnant but she stays slim and svelte. And then suddenly lo and behold she gives birth to a kid that looks like a 6 month old child. Then there is the bit about Raees running for political office. We don’t know if he won or lost the election.

The film is worse than what I expected pointed my neighbor to the right and she is a strong fan of Shah Rukh Khan. It was not realistic pointed out the gentleman sitting to the left of me. But I quite like it he quickly added. What did I think of it? Raees had a lot of promise, but it fell short. Khan does a good job and it was refreshing to see him in this new avatar. Sadly, Siddiqui is under-utilized in the film.  K U Mohanan’s cinematography needs a special mention. Gujarat is almost like a character in the film. I now want to visit and explore Gujarat. This is perhaps the first Bollywood film that is entirely set in Gujarat.

Raees is currently running in various theaters in the San Francisco Bay area.

Raaes stars Shah Rukh Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Mahira Khan. Music is by Ram Sampath.

  • Title:RAEES
  • Running Time: 142 minutes
  • Status: Released in USA – Jan 25, 2017 
  • Country: INDIA
  • Genre: BOLLYWOOD

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Silicon Valley’s annual film festival Cinequest is back this year with a strong foucs on virtual reality (VR).  The VR offerings range from short VR films to VR experiences and workshops with filmmakers on how to capture and create VR content.

Cinequest Film & VR festival runs from Feb 28 – Mar 12, 2017 and is expanding it sofferings beyond downtown San Jose to Santana Row in San Jose and Redwood City in the Peninsula.

The theme for this year’s festival is “elevate,” shared Halfdan Hussey, CEO and co-founder of Cinequest. Jason Reitman and Jane Lynch will receive the Maverick Award this year.

The opening night film on Feb 28 is director Mark Wellington’s The Last Word with Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried.

The closing night film on March 12 is director Niki Caro’s The Zookeeper’s Wife starring Jessica Chastain and Johan Heldenbergh. The picture is based Diane Ackerman’s book by the same name. This is a true story about Jan and Antonina Żabiński, who saved the lives of people and animals in Poland during World War 2.

Great Garbo’s Flesh and The Devil is this year’s silent film offering. Dennis James will play live music on the wurlitzer organ.

For information on film festival schedule and ticket visit their website.

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Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone was in Hollywood a few days ago to promote her new film xXx Return of Xander Cage that stars Vin Diesel and is directed by DJ Caruso.

xXx Return of Xander Cage

Diesel, Caruso and  Padukone attended the Indian premier in Mumbai  since the film released in India on Jan 13, 2017. Diesel’s films are hugely popular in India, and so it was no surprise that he got a hugely warm welcome when he was in Mumbai to promote his film.

After promoting the film in India Padukone got busy promoting it in the US in various talk shows. xXX Return of Xander Cage released in the US on  Jan 18, 2017.

This is Padukone’s first Hollywood film as she explains  in The Ellen Show interview.

Padukone also appeared on the Late, Late Show with James Corden along with Diesel. Corden and Padukone busted some Bollywood moves of lungi dance, a hugely popular song from the Bollywood film Chennai Express. Corden is a quick study as you can see for yourself in this clip. Who knows you might end up seeing Corden in a Bollywood film.

And, here is the original “lungi dance” from Chennai Express that stars Padukone and Shah Rukh Khan. The song pays homage to the South India film actor Superstar Rajnikanth, who is also known as Thalaiva, which means leader in Tamil. Rajnikanth is known for his unique style of dancing.

Who knew one day I’d end up watching a Rajnikanth inspired song on American TV.

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Dr. Uma Jayaram is the co-founder and COO of VOKE VR that was acquired by Intel Corp in November 2016 for an undisclosed amount. We recorded our interview with Dr. Jayaram earlier this year before it was acquired by Intel.

We sat down with Dr. Jayaram to find out how she and her husband Dr. Sankar Jayaram came up with the idea to build VOKE VR and how they built an end-to-end VR solution. Their goal was to provide real-time, immersive experience to their audience and they succeeded in doing that. Their solution is used to stream live concert and sports events she shares.

Dr. Jayaram grew up in Durgapur, India and credits her mother for nurturing her interest in math and science. Her mother was one of the first women engineers in India, who  got her master’s in electrical engineering from University of Washington in 1954. Instead of staying back in the US her mother elected to go back to India to teach physics at an Engineering college in Durgapur.

Dr. Jayaram shares her mother was her  role model for her career and family. Dr. Jayaram fondly reminisces an evening when her mother taught her  about Einstein’s theory for her exams, while rustling up a sumptuous dinner for her family.

Dr. Jayaram followed her mother’s footsteps and studied engineering and eventually ended up in Washington state, where she taught at Washington State University, Pullman. The Jayarams founded a couple of companies before founding VOKE.

This interview is part of our TV series on Women in Science & Tech sponsored by Zoho Corp.

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We caught up director Theodore Melfi during the screening of his film Hidden Figures by the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS). We talked to him about the making of Hidden Figures which is about 3 African-American math teachers, who went on to work for NASA and worked in the Apollo project in the 1960s. We also spoke to him on he came to be attached the film project,  the math boot camp that he held for his actors and the music by Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer.

Melfi and Olivia Spencer, who acts in the film were in San Francisco to receive The Sloan Science in Cinema award. The award is given by the SFSS and The Sloan Foundation.

Hidden Figures stars Taraji Henderson, Olivia Henderson, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kristin Dunst, Jim Parsons and Mahershala Ali.

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Veteran actor Om Puri (66) passed away on Jan 6, 2016 in Mumbai. A versatile and talented actor, Puri acted in theatre, films and TV. He made his film debut in the 1970s and went on to act in many art house films in Hindi and branched off into mainstream Bollywood. He then went on to act in British films and TV and Hollywood and  films like The Jewel In The Crown, City of Joy, East is East, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, The Hundred-Foot Journey and the yet-to-be released Viceroy’s House by Gurinder Chadha.






Flor de Anís is a song composed by Jorge Licego by Cascada de Flores, a San Francisco Bay area ensemble.  Liceaga sings the music and is accompanied by Arwen Lawrence (vocalist, dancer), Kyla Danysh (violinist, vocalist), and Saul Sierra-Alonso (bass).

You can watch the entire performance and an interview with Lawrence here. The show was aired on TV in the USA.

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Happy New Year

Wish you a wonderful new year filled with happiness and joy.