Films | Artist Interviews | American Desi – Reliving The Experience

American Desi – Reliving The Experience

Posted by Vivek on March 16, 2011 | No Comments

When the history of the Indian immigrant experience in the US is documented, March 16, 2001, will be the day, the SECOND GENERATION arrived and reconciled with the FIRST GENERATION, creatively that is. AMERICAN DESI was released that day. The film was the first American Indian movie to get a nationwide theatrical release. It also went on to release in Canada, UK, India, Australia, South Africa, amongst other places. The movie became a cult classic. Audiences thronged the cinemas, across the US, to get a glimpse of essentially themselves.

The underlying theme of the clash of cultures, of identity, was serious, but the film used humor and wit to get the message across. The classic battle of “ABCD” the “FOB’s” etc, anyone who has lived in North America (actually every NRI globally) felt the film belong to them. Ironically even the folks back in India enjoyed the whole experience since many had come to the US as students.

Three individuals essentially germinated this classic. Computer Engineer, Piyush Dinker Pandya, his statistician brother Gitesh and an Investment banker from MIT, Deep Katdare.  The film launched the careers of KAL PENN, RIZWAN MANJI, RONOBIR LAHIRI, PURVA BEDI, etc, folks who went on to become household names in the US (in fact Rizwan comes on LENO tonite).

We caught up with Piyush:

How does it feel looking back, a decade ago?

Very nostalgic. Doesn’t feel like it was that long ago, that we made and released the film. I still remember, the movie was done and it was coming out and we were all thrown into this commercial release frenzy, which none of us really had any experience with. Kind of a crazy time, but a lot of fun too.

Deep is now back to his Investment Banking, you are well entrenched in IT consulting, Kal is in Hollywood and the White House, Gitesh has become Mr Box Office Guru. What do you think it was that got these diverse high achievers together for American Desi?
I think we all had the same kind of desire and vision, we all in our different aspects wanted to make a film. See a film like this. I think we were all kind of just drawn together at that time and we found each other, worked together and made the best possible film we could with the available resources, experience and just took it from there.

I know you tend to downplay your role, but do you think American Desi, is the reason that people like Kal and Rizwan have reached where they are today, because of the platform that you gave them?

They were all great talent and would have made it anyway, but I like to think that and I am proud that this was the first film and their first chance to really act outside the smaller roles that might have come their way, till then, or the stereotypical roles. To really flex their muscles and stretch their talent and find out what they really are all about, which hopefully lead to other opportunities to do more and more.

The question that you have been asked a zillion times, but we really can’t celebrate a decade and not ask it, is there an AMERICAN DESI PART 2 floating around somewhere?

Well I have toyed with the idea, everyone always talks about it. Toyed with storylines, you never know, it may still come up. It would have to be at the right time, with the right resources, the main players would have to be interested and available

AMERICAN DESI folks was the MOST COMMERCIALLY SUCCESSFUL film, in the American Indian genre, period. What followed were clones which lacked heart and spirit. This film showed that it was not about the money, it was about the vision and the passion, it was not about following any yardstick, it was about setting the path themselves, it was not about being someone that their parents or peers wanted, it was truly about their coming of age. A decade later, AMERICAN DESI, is that precious gem that every NRI and RI can look at with pride and somewhere, somehow, make the statement, “that was me!”

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