Shereen Ladha’s Roots will take you on a magical journey of colour and sound

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Roots: A Journey Through India is a show that combines dance, music and history. It comes to the Rose Theatre in Brampton, Saturday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m.

Whenever I chance upon something amazing: a good book, a watchable movie, an incredible entrée or even an interesting conversation, there’s a good chance, I will not simply shut up about it.

Sometimes, I even write a whole blog.

So pretend for a moment, these words are being delivered via a bullhorn.

I, for one, plan to stop by the Rose Theatre in Brampton, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. to watch Roots: A Journey Through India.

Having sampled a small snippet on video (you can watch the earlier post), I know it’s just the kind of thing to appeal to all my senses— high-energy dance, opulent costumes, familiar Bollywood tunes and a story line.

Shereen Ladha, 29, the director and creator of Roots as well as owner of popular YouTube channel, dancewithSL has conceived the show by combining her love for dance and choreography, India and Bollywood music.

When she started dancing at four,it was because it was, “so organic, almost like breathing.”

Then on, it was all hard work and grit and following the path.

Magnificent, mesmerizing and magical

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Shereen Ladha, creator and director of Roots: A Journey Through India is a versatile artist proficient in many genres of dance. Supplied photo

Roots can be described as a panoramic, visually stunning musical show that through Shereen’s signature vision wefts and weaves silken threads of romance, laughter and drama through several touchstones of India’s cultural heritage. The rich tapestry is sewn together with Bollywood music.

“I think what makes Roots so unique is its multi-generational and multi-cultural appeal,” said Shereen who considers Madhuri Dixit and Michael Jackson her idols. “It will remind our grandparents and parents of home; the younger generation will connect to our heritage and for people of other cultures, Roots will demonstrate the length and breath of India’s cultural diversity and richness…”

By the way, the last two shows sold-out.

Some 16 or more talented artists execute Shereen’s vision on stage. Mississauga’s Shama Kassam, 26, is one of them.

ken_5721Shama and Shereen are best buddies bound by their passion for dance. When she’s not swaying to music, Shama channelizes her energy into making the body, mind and breath connection as a yoga instructor at Power Yoga Canada Mississauga.

Roots, must be watched to be believed, she says

“I, like many Indians and non-Indians alike, grew up with a love for classic Bollywood and have always been inspired by the feminine grace of movement in Indian dance styles,” Shama said. “My parents love Bollywood music and our house is always willed with Indian music from the 70’s to modern day. I also grew up with a lot of interest in Hip-Hop music and that influences the style of dance I love, and the types of music I’m drawn to.”

Naach baliye, naach

Shereen, a Toronto native is a choreographer, dance visionary schooled in many genres: Hip-Hop, Ballet, Kathak and jazz, all of which she assimilated by the time she was 10.

“Intense dance training is really at the heart of that (dance repertoire),” said the artist whose day job is working with a strategic consulting firm. “I’m a strong believer in having a good foundation in dance. I believe a dancer really should never stop learning, a reason why I started my Master Classes in Bollywood.”

Sorry? Nah, Maafi

You probably recall Shereen from her viral hit Maafi, a cover of Justin Bieber’s chartbuster Sorry. The remix video garnered almost a million views before Sony Music grabbed the copyright.

“One my friends wanted me to do a choreography piece to Sorry by Justin Bieber as part of my regular channel videos, but I thought the original video and choreography was so good that I wanted to do something more unique and put my own spin on it,” Shereen told TDD. “So I got my music producer, J-Raj, and my team on board and Maafi was born.”

On the video going viral she says:

“I think it’s one thing to have fame, however long or short-lived it is, and another thing to make an impact,” Shereen says. “Sharing my art, educating people about my culture, and changing perceptions though dance is something I value so much more, and I feel strongly that I won’t ever compromise the quality of my work to achieve any level of fame.”

Check out Maafi!

To buy tickets for Roots, visit here or call 905-874-2800.

February ’17 events in Toronto will warm your heart

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Saturday, Feb. 4

Event: A.R. Rahman Tribute
Details: Ideal Entertainment, is presenting the Ideal Dreams show on Saturday, Feb. 4, at Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 1 Front St. E., to pay tribute to Asonycentreimage.R. Rahman for his 25 years of service in the film industry. Featuring the Kindred Spirits Orchestra with over a 100 North American artists, the show will include musical theatre, dance and vocal performances set in sequences to Rahman’s compositions. A.R. Rahman expected to attend the event.
Contact: Here

lx_mb_amar_karma_galleryEvent: Give a Heart Gala
Details: Amar Karma Health and Wellness Awareness Centre will host its 7th annual Give a Heart gala at the Apollo Convention Centre, 6591 Innovator Dr. Mississauga at 6:30 p.m.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Feb. 11

Event: Sanskriti Artssanskriti
Details: At Sanskriti Arts Ensemble’s (SAE) open house happening 1 to 6 p.m. at 2359 Royal Windsor Dr., unit 15 in Mississauga, fitness and fun are on the agenda. Enjoy an array of dance performances including Bollywood, yoga, Kathak, Hip-hop and more.
Contact: Here

Event: Valentine’s Day Party
Details: A Bollywood style Valentine’s Day party is happening at the Rose Garden Banquet Hall, 6628 Finch Ave. W. Etobicoke from 6:30 p.m. Live entertainment by Sunil Patel and his Bollywood Tunes orchestra.
Contact: Here

Friday, Feb. 17

1Event: Salsa Sizzle
Details: Salsa sizzle is an hour long salsa lesson followed by a dance performance along with a DJ spinning Salsa tunes, Top 40 Bollywood and English hits. Magic is happening at the Symphony Hall, 959 Derry Rd. E. at 9 p.m. Tickets cost $20/person. Dress code: Black and red formal wear.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Feb. 18

ken_6847Event: Roots: A Journey Through India
Details: Experience the beauty of Indian culture and heritage through dance – from the mystique of the Hindu deities to the vibrant colours and energy of modern Bollywood styles, from the Mughal Empire’s love stories to modern day Punjab. Performance happening at The Rose Theatre, 1 Theatre Ln. Brampton at 7 p.m.
Contact: Here

Friday, Feb. 24

shaunEvent: Shaun Majumder
Details: Gemini award winner Shaun often plays an alter ego called Raj Binder. Maybe he’ll make an appearance at the performance at the Living Arts Centre (Hammerson Hall), 4141 Living Arts Centre Dr. Mississauga at 8 p.m.
Contact: Here

Jonita Gandhi sets all hearts aflutter with two back-to-back chart busters

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Toronto crooner Jonita Gandhi has been creating a buzz of sorts in Bollywood with her back-to-back hits for Dangal and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

It took me weeks to de-addict myself from The Breakup Song (Ae Dil Hai Mushkil).

Just as I managed to wean myself, the Gilehriyaan track from Dangal has now ear wormed into my psyche.

Not a coincidence then that both these chart busters are from Jonita Gandhi, Toronto’s own nightingale.

A couple of years ago, I penned a blog about Jonita. This was around the time she was dipping her toes in the music industry in Bollywood. Jonita has since toured with the likes of Sonu Nigam and A.R. Rahman; worked with several top-notch composers to deliver multiple hits.

Often when journalists sit across from famous folks with our pens poised, we’re mostly unimpressed with titles or awards, what warms us is the individual’s passion for their craft and humility.

With Jonita, you can check off all those boxes.

 Here’s Jonita getting candid about success, her struggle and the smash hit : The Breakup Song

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Toronto crooner Jonita Gandhi. Supplied photo.

TDD: It seems the entire nation and desis around the world are humming your recent chartbuster – Breakup song. Tell us how did the chance to collaborate with Pritam Chakraborthy come about?

JG: Working with Pritam Da is an opportunity I always wanted. Though the Breakup Song isn’t my first release with him, I’m very thankful to have worked on this song with him. Quite a while back, I was called into the studio to record the beginning. At that time, it was just a scratch. I was called back to record the rest of the song some time later and several times after for lyrical changes, but I didn’t know until the song was released that my voice was kept in the final track.

TDD: The song’s upbeat, liberating and free, whereas breakup tunes are weepy. Your reaction when you heard the lyrics?

JG: I had so much fun recording the song because of the quirky lyrics. The dialogue at the beginning of the song is my favourite part. It gave me the opportunity to be over dramatic and playful. When I first heard it I thought, “wow this is definitely not how I would react to a breakup!” Ha!ha!ha! but I’m glad this song is what it is and I hope it helps people through their breakups.

TDD: How long have you been in Bollywood? What is it like tasting success?

JG: My debut in Bollywood happened in 2013 with the title track of Chennai Express, so it’s been three years now. I am extremely grateful for all of the opportunities since then, to work with people that I had only dreamed of working with. No matter how much I grow in my career, I try to keep myself grounded and remind myself that there’s always room to improve and that I have a long way to go.

TDD: Did you have to go through a bit of struggle too in your musical journey? What was that like?

JG: Nothing good comes easy. When I first came to India, I came in as a blank slate. I had no contacts and knew nothing about how things work here. It took a lot of perseverance, patience and an open mind to keep working towards my goals. There were times where it got overwhelming for sure. But it’s all worth it. 

TDD: From Brampton to Mumbai – the highs and lows?

JG: Life in Brampton is extremely different than life in Mumbai. We take the weather for granted in Canada and complain about the cold, but we don’t have to worry about moldy closets in rain season and food spoiling so quickly because of heat like in India.

Traffic! You have to be good at planning your commute when you have to be somewhere on time because traffic in India is nothing compared to Toronto.

• Customer service is something we take for granted in Canada because we are so used to getting things resolved after putting in a complaint. It’s quite a struggle here in India to get to the bottom of a problem.

But I have to admit I love the fact that you can order almost anything for delivery in India.

TDD: Is there any incident in Bollywood (with a celebrity/actor) that you recall that still makes you chuckle?

JG: When I was called in to record Kahaan Hoon Main, both Rahman sir and Imtiaz Ali were present at the time. That day I had food poisoning and was throwing up non-stop throughout the day. When I received the call to come in to the studio, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, so I was a trooper and went in. It took some time for the studio to be setup, so I asked the engineer to let me know when I was needed and went to lie down in another room.

Shortly after being called in to start recording I had to step out for a “bathroom break,” which was really for me to puke my guts out. That memory still makes me smile from time to time because only the engineer and I know how sick I was feeling that day. Rahman sir and Imtiaz had no idea. 

TDD: Bet you miss home…

JG: Over and above anything else, I miss my family. Whatsapp comes in really handy. I wish they could be here with me all the time, but I am glad to be able to go home every once in a while, and have them visit me from time to time as well. 

 **Amir Khan starrer Dangal hit the theatres in North America, Dec. 21.**

 

Toronto artist with Down Syndrome thumbs her nose at naysayers

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Gurvir Singh, 24, an artist/songwriter/fashionista founded Power of One, an initiative that through art teaches participants the impact of words when it comes to discrimination.

Sassy, artistic, brave, and a total diva.

Gurvir Singh, 24, is unlike any woman I have met.

She hasn’t let her disability (Down Syndrome) become her identity rather, with the support of her family this amazing artist is carving quite a niche for herself as a fashionista, songwriter and an advocate.

When I met her, Gurvir sported a black top and jacket, paired with a sapphire blue scarf and trendy accessories. She exuded confidence I wish I could borrow.

Each of the pieces of art she brought along, turns out was the result of a powerful creative stirring she experienced when she watched: Harry Potter series, the azure blue ocean she glimpsed when she visited her sister Sara in Halifax, the music of One Direction and so on.

Without art, Gurvir would have probably carried the hurt of the words her bullies hurled at her all through her school years. Even though she was bullied, she didn’t let the bullies win.

“Words can hurt,” said Gurvir. “I was called names all through my school and one day, during a hip-hop class, one of the boys called me fat.”

I have to interject here. Sahil Prashar, whom I wrote about earlier, too was bullied.

I can’t understand the mindset of families that nurture these bullies. Children learn aggression and behaviour from their parents and then expel their cruelty outside. If I had my way, I would parade the parents and shame them like the media does with impaired drivers during the annual RIDE (Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere) program.

So, back to Gurvir.

gurvir2One day, after she went through yet another volley of taunts at school, Gurvir and her sisters Sara and Navprit, launched Power of One, an arts initiative that offers series of workshops to help participants understand the impact of words in bullying and discrimination. At the end of each session, folks create a tangible piece of art to take home.

I am amazed at Gurvir’s spunk. Even though it would have hurt horribly to go to school every day and be at the receiving end of her bullies’ cruelty, she did not give up her learning. She graduated and hoped to pursue a university degree in fashion, except there are none for students with disabilities.

The Singh Sisters, as I like to call them, have taken it upon themselves to advocate for educational opportunities for those with disabilities.

“Watching Gurvir and all the barriers she faces made my family want to become advocates of change,” said Sara Singh, Gurvir’s older sister explained adding her non-profit Broadening Horizons’ mandate is to help, educate, inspire and mobilze youth to use creative expression as a tool to address social issues. “We urge people to promote inclusion in their workings whether it’s through employment or artistic endeavours. Through inclusion we can educate not just ourselves but other people as well on what inclusion and exclusion is.”

Gurvir has no time to dwell in the past. She keeps busy creating t-shirts with personalized art, writing songs and painting. Her advise to those getting bullied?

“They should stand up for themselves and maybe talk to a teacher, principal or someone they trust,” said Gurvir. “As you grow up, things change and you become stronger and that helps too.”

Amen, sister, Amen.

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Gurvir flanked by the “rocks” in her life, sisters Sara (right) and Navprit. The Singh Sisters are advocates for those with disabilities and run Broadening Horizons, a non-profit group. Photo by Bryon Johnson/Metroland Media Inc.

 

 

Non-verbal autistic teen from Toronto sings in three languages

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The two subsequent blog entries belong to Sahil Prashar, 17, and Gurvir Singh, 24. Both have disabilities and both have experienced bullying. I was able to put my life in perspective after meeting them. I hope you will too, after you read about them.

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Sahil Prashar, 17, is a non-verbal autistic teen and a savant who can sing in three languages. Supplied photo.

 The autistic teen with the voice of an angel

The 45-minute drive through the rural roads of Caledon and Orangeville took us into the bowels of inky darkness of a fall evening.
As the GPS announced our destination, all I could think of was: Why on earth would a desi family, with young children – Sahil and Jiya – choose to live in virtual isolation?

Minutes into my conversation, Anoop Prashar — Sahil and Jiya’s dad — as though reading my mind, answers my question.

Anoop and his wife Sudha Prashar chose to move away from the bright lights of city so they could escape the insensitive taunts families and children hurled at their non-verbal autistic son Sahil, 17.

In Hindi/Punjabi or for that matter in other Indian dialect, there’s a complete absence of language and word that has both sensitivity and compassion for individuals that don’t conform to a cookie-cutter mold.

So, people resort to the harsh and inappropriate “paagal” (or crazy). Imagine for a moment, how the reference may have made the Prashars wince. To toss the ubiquitous “Paagal” at anyone with autism, Down syndrome, learning disability or mental health, is cruel.

So, understandably when society gave them the cold shoulder, the Prashars tried spirituality.

“Those preaching/visiting temples and Gurudwaras are interested in chasing religion, not humanity,” observes Sudha who has had to watch her son being bullied at school. The adults too exhibited zero compassion.

Sahil, an extraordinary teen on the Autism spectrum, cannot speak, read or write, but he can sing. Boy, can he sing.

“Sahil has recorded more than 50 YouTube videos in three languages: English, Hindi and Punjabi,” Anoop shares. “Do you know any other 17 year-old with autism that can sing Marvin Gaye and other Motown hits, Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga along with bhajans and ghazals?”

That’s a truly impressive feat, except the Prashars are not social media savvy or well connected, so they have not been able to share Sahil’s gift with the world.

No takers/no supporters

On a recent day, when Sahil’s voice began to hit the notes of a spiritual song about a mother pleading to the deity, it took every ounce of willpower not to break down and sob.

The innocence on Sahil’s face as he stared into space, twisted my heart. His voice was pure.

A dad – who’s the breadwinner – leaves for work and interacts with others as part of his work, but a stay-at-home Mom’s sole focus is her child. She makes several journeys to hell and back, protecting him from pain, discomfort and the world. Worse, she has to hide her tears, so her son can see the strength and hope.

There’s no doubt, this vulnerable youngster, who cannot take care of himself or defend himself from his bullies , is enveloped in a warm and solid fortress of love. But, the question, one that likely keeps parents of  children with disabilities awake at nights is: what will happen to our child after us?

“Till date, Sahil has not had anyone his age come over to the house to play video games, he has not been invited to any birthday parties,” Anoop said. “To society, he’s invisible because he’s disabled…”

When their child was three, Sahil’s parents noticed he did not talk and missed key milestones. To their amazement, he would sing along to songs on the car’s radio.

“When he was a child, Sahil had this toy piano that he would play with until it broke,” his father said. “When it broke, we would go get another one (same make).”

This song is from the heart

Anoop, who works in the trucking/construction industry, decided to share Sahil’s incredible talent with the world, some three years ago.

Each day, he would play a song whose lyrics and melody Sahil would instantly pick, thanks to a photographic memory. Hours of practice later, the duo would record the number. The sound system they use is primitive and out dated, a second-hand Karaoke system that doesn’t capture the acoustics or inflection of sounds well.

When they had recorded a fair number of songs, armed with links to the videos, Anoop and Sudha knocked on doors of media/bloggers/YouTube influencers urging them to share Sahil’s gift. No one bit.

The Prashars are completely at loss. Music makes Sahil happy and all they want is to give him a stage on which he can perform and share his love for music.

“I want Sahil to be a world-famous Canadian,” Anoop said adding they would welcome any band/studio that was willing to work with Sahil.

To check out Sahil’s talent, visit his Facebook page here.

Toronto desis continue Diwali celebrations and more in Nov. 2016

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Friday, Nov. 4

Event: Deepawali Milan
Details: Head to Hilldale Public School, 100 Hilldale Cres. for a satvik Diwali celebration at 6 p.m. Proceeds will go to Seva Canada International in support of educating the girl child.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Nov. 5

Event: Diwali Celebrations
Details: Telugu Alliance of Canada (TACA) is celebrating its 2016 Diwali at Port Credit Secondary School, 70 Mineola Rd. E. Mississauga at 5 p.m.
Contact: Here

el-poster-image-e1476906009779Event: Enchanted Loom
Details: Factory and Cahoots will present The Enchanted Loom, a play written by Suvendrini Lena and directed by Marjorie Chan at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St. Play runs from Nov. 5 to 27.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Nov. 12

Event: Himachali Night
Details: people attending this gala at Parivar Banquet Hall, 237 Advance Blvd. in Brampton at 5:30 p.m. will likely spend the evening reminiscing about life in the hills. This function hosted by Himachali Association in Canada will celebrate the spirit of Dev Bhoomi – Himachal Pradesh.
Contact: Here

Event: Miss India Canada 2016
Details: The 26th Annual Miss India Canada will crown a winner at the International Plaza Hotel, 655 Dixon Rd. Event starts at 6 p.m. . Dr. Zeus is the celebrity guest.
Contact: Here

Friday, Nov. 18

Event: Taal 2016
Details: The Indian Students’ Society, Pakistan Development Foundation, Bangladeshi Students’ Association and Tamil Students’ Association are inviting residents to sample a taste of South Asia at their event – Taal 2016. The event will take place at William Doo Auditorium, 45 Willcocks St. Toronto from 5 to 10 p.m.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Nov. 19

Event: Scarborough South Asian Film Festival
Details: The Scarborough South Asian Film Festival (SSAFF): Through a Social Justice Lens kicks off at Woodside Cinemas, 1571 Sandhurst Circ., from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Festival hosted by The Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA) in partnership with Woodside Cinemas.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Nov. 26

Event: Asia Wedding Lounge
Details: Vendors – which includes wedding designers and brands – are bringing their stuff to Toronto in this first-ever fair. Event taking place Nov. 26 to 27 at Rose Garden Banquet Hall, 6638 Finch Ave. W. Etobicoke.
Contact: Here

Brinda Muralidhar explores tangled ties in her debut film Knot Not!

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Dilip Krishnamurthy (Mohan) and Jessica Seigner (Patricia) filming a scene of Knot Not! in Mississauga. The film recently made its Canadian debut.

The making of a movie

Theatre, acting, stage and spotlights are entrenched in Brinda Muralidhar’s DNA.

So, having her debut film, Knot Not! premiered recently to a packed house, was Brinda’s ultimate homage to her Indo-Canadian roots.

The 1 hour 44-minute film about values, parental pressures and seeking ones identity, boasts an impressive line-up of local artists, most of who are relatively unknown, but bursting with potential.

Knot Not! is about what happens to your family when the parents are not on the same page,” Brinda explains. “In so many cases, one parent is tied down to the rules while the other doesn’t give a damn.”

And that’s how the film’s title came about: one parent is committed to preserving the knot of the marriage, while the other is not.

The premiere in Brampton was a sold-out one. This shows there may be a yet-to-be captured market for entertaining stories told from a hyper-local perspective

Shot in the GTA, Knot Not! has original music scored by Vinayak Hegde and Deepak Sant. It’s produced by Brinda’s soul mate/husband – Gunny, who’s also the cinematographer. Incidentally, it was Gunny, who came up with the idea for the film. Since communication at the Muralidhar home is unconventional, Gunny enacted his idea in a short one-minute narrative. Brinda was sold. She took on multiple responsibilities: director/screenplay/dialogues/editor and watched the idea grow and grow.

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Suniti Santosh (L) and Dilip Krishnamurthy in Brinda Muralidhar’s Indo-Canadian film Knot Not!

What’s Canadian film without a winter scene filled with snow, eh? Jessica Siegner told me one blustery winter day, Gunny and Brinda showed up at her Mississauga home after Ma Nature deposited some significant quantity of white stuff. They shot a particularly beautiful scene, framed against the beautiful backdrop of the Marilyn Monroe towers in Mississauga. I guess, it can’t get more Canadian than that.

The film showcases among other things, the stark contrast of family values from a desi’s perspective versus a Caucasian’s way of thinking.

Before this final version of Knot Not! there was an earlier one that was nearly 80 per cent ready, but Brinda and Gunny had to shelve the earlier version and re-shoot it all over again. Talk about teething troubles.

Initially, Knot Not! was supposed to be a 30-minute short film, but it took on a life of its own. This meant, the Muralidhars’ budget was shot to hell.

Brinda jokes the film’s finances are courtesy, “Bank of Muralidhar.”

The credentials

Brinda’s father­— Ramachandra Rao— was playwright and director, while her uncle (father’s older brother) M.V. Narayan Rao was a well-known stage and cinema artist/producer.

Canada however proved to be a fertile soil for Brinda’s artistic mindset because since she moved here, she has kept busy with more than a dozen stage productions in Kannada, English and Hindi. Brinda launched her film production company 1CanMedia Creations in 2013.

When the Muralidhars invited talent to audition for their film, they received dozens of responses. Brinda says she hated rejecting anyone because of a philosophy she inherited from her dad.

Her dad apparently would pluck an unknown, but eager artist from the neighbourhood to polish their rough edges and turn them into a brilliant theatrical gem.

Brinda says while shortlisting her actors to play Patricia’s role, Mississauga’s Jessica didn’t almost make it, but she had second thoughts and invited her to audition.

“As soon as Jessica walked into the room and said ‘hello’ to me, I knew that was the girl…” Brinda said.

Brinda said she started fleshing out the characters based on her actors as opposed to asking them to slipping into her vision. Dialogues and backstories were carefully crafted to include the artist’s mannerisms.

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Jessica Seigner (Patricia) and Dilip Krishnamurthy (Mohan) in Brinda Muralidhar’s debut film Knot Not!

Knot Not! Who’s there?

The film is about Mohan (Dilip Krishnamurthy), a South India arrives in Canada as an international student. In school, he befriends Patricia Smith (Jessica Siegner) a Canadian who guides him through his search for his identity.  Mohan’s parents Srinivas and Padma want their son to wed Lakshmi (Suniti Santosh), the beautiful daughter of their friend Bhaskar (Nat Pennathur).

Mohan does not want to meekly follow the path paved by his father, instead with Lakshmi and Patricia’s help Mohan discovers himself.

The film journeys through many plots and subplots and through comedy, drama and insightful scenes unties the tangled web of human relationships.