Tap dance will meet Kathak in Toronto when this award-winning dance duo stir up magic through their feet

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An artist’s vision should be as limitless, flexible enough to accommodate new ideas, and have the ability to elevate the art itself in new and exciting ways.

Seema Mehta, a well-known Kathak dancer, and Emmy-award-winning tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith check off all the above-mentioned boxes.

In their upcoming show, Rhythm Rewritten, happening in Toronto and other cities in Canada, the duo combines the timeless grace of Kathak with the intricacies of tap dance without diluting the sanctity of either.

You can watch their incredible chemistry and footwork, Thursday, May 16 at the Aga Khan Museum, 77 Wynford Dr. Toronto at 8 p.m.  This show is a must-see for everyone that loves dance, art, culture, and music.

“Our performance is all improv,” says Seema, who was trained by the renowned Chitresh Das and with whom Jason created the award-winning ‘India Jazz Suites.’”

Seema Mehta, a renowned Kathak dancer, and a disciple of the late Chitresh Das has been carrying on the legacy of her guru. Photo courtesy of Seema Mehta

“What is incredible about Jason’s dance is his ability to focus and really listen to what’s happening around him which he absorbs and recreates through his body,” she continued. “Even though (the energy), is coming out of the tap shoes, it’s, in fact, going through his whole body. Jason’s dance decisions are made in a split second…”

Sounds intriguing, no? Check out the video.

Witness the battle of the feet in Toronto

The staccato sounds produced tap shoe complement the musical cadence of the Ghungroo (bell anklet) in a mesmerizing way. A fact that the world was able to witness because Chitresh Das, a jazz aficionado, imagined Kathak as a force that could easily blend with other forms.

In 2004, the American Dance Festival in North Carolina invited Chitresh Das to be part of the line-up. The event also featured a Flamenco company as well as three tap dancers including Jason.

When Jason and Chitresh Das jammed, they both experienced an incredible connection, both personally and as artists.

“That was my first exposure to Kathak and I was fascinated by the rhythms, energy, storytelling and the precision of the dancers,” Jason recalled with nostalgia. “Dada (as Das was known) was a larger-than-life personality. He had an incredible desire to preserve his style and promote it to the world. I admired that because in tap dance too, we strive for the same thing.”

And thus, began a friendship and collaboration that continues.

Emmy-award-winning tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith will bring his energy and tap shoes to Toronto for Rhythm Rewritten, a show where Samuels Smith collaborates with Kathak dancer Seema Mehta for a scintillating performance. Photo courtesy of Matthew Murphy.

When Seema and Jason are on stage, each feeds off the energy of the other as well draws strength from an enthusiastic crowd.

Case in point. Students across various IIT Campuses in India gave Seema and Jason rousing feedback when the duo performed in their campuses. The audience was loud, energetic and enthusiastic.

So, what can you expect at Rhythm Rewritten concert?

Simple, an hour-and-half performance, from two stellar artists that understand music and dance and communicate without a word.

The show will feature two solo acts with Seema showcasing her Kathak IQ and Jason exhibiting his outstanding abilities. Then, the two will jointly perform together.

“It’s kind of like a concert but it’s also a conversation between individuals and styles (of dance), between cultures, time, generation, etc,” Jason explains. “We both build bridges within our art forms without changing it. Unlike a fusion act where the lines get so blurry that you don’t know what’s what, we use a traditional vocabulary to express a current conversation.”

Rhythm Rewritten concert features Debashis Sarkar (vocals), Jayanta Banerjee (Sitar), Satyaprakash Mishra (Tabla), Ian de Sousa (bass), and Theo Hill (piano). For tickets, visit here.

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IFFSA-Toronto brings dozens of films and filmmakers

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Well-known Hindi film actor Manoj Bajpayee was in Toronto for the 2019 IFFSA-Toronto.
Well-known Hindi film actor Manoj Bajpayee was in Toronto for the screening of his film Bhonsle which was part of the International Film Festival of South Asia (IFFSA) – Toronto. Bajpayee participated in a Q&A with Jake Dheer, a member of IFFSA-Toronto advisory board. Photo by Toronto Desi Diaries.

If you’re a serious film buff, not the Bollywood song-and-dance kind, but of cinema whose characters and storyline end up connecting with you on a personal level, albeit through subtitles, then, the International Film Festival of South Asia (IFFSA) — Toronto, may be just what you need. The festival running until May 20 at multiple venues across the Greater Toronto Area, kicked-off Thursday, May 9.

Well-known actor Manoj Bajpayee (Satya) was among those in Toronto for the screening of his acclaimed film Bhonsle. The film follows the unusual friendship between Ganpath Bhonsle, a retired cop (Bajpayee), and a pair of Bihari migrants; a young woman and her brother.

Bajpayee—who also co-produced the project— talked about how the movie almost didn’t happen.

Migrants and migration are hot potato issues in India (across the globe too). At least half a dozen producers passed it because they feared the film’s sympathetic premise would step on the toes of some stridently anti-migrant political leaders.

When the shooting was finally underway in 2017, the Devashish Makhija directed film, ran out of money on the 10th day, forcing a desperate, but determined Bajpayee to reach out to an old producer friend of his and ask for $50,000. The friend came through. The rest is, Bhonsle.

“My basic nature (since childhood) is that I am very stubborn,” Bajpayee told the crowd. “If I decide to do something, I go for it whether I fail or succeed. I was passionate about this film (Bhonsle).”

“An artist is nothing without the vision of a director,” Bajpayee continued. “The director can have 25-years of experience or five or no experience at all. There was this director (Devashish Makhija) who had talent, a great script and a story to tell. This story is about a burning topic (migrants). And what’s unique about this story is that we’re talking about people who’re immigrants in their own country. Producers were wary of the subject and no one wanted to produce it…it was then I decided, no matter what this film will be made.”

Wikipedia pages are not exactly literary sources, but Bhonsle’s Wikipedia page is surprisingly well-written and detailed. It offers some never-published facts including one that says the director shot several scenes “in closed narrow spaces as Makhija wanted to ‘create a sense of suffocation.’”

Poster of Bhonsle, a Hindi film showcasing the issue of migrants
Bhonsle, a Hindi film which tackles the issue of migrants and migration through sensitivity, was screened at IFFSA-Toronto, May 9. The film’s lead actor Manoj Bajpayee was on hand for a talk.

Gurinder Chadha’s Blinded by the Light wows the audience in Toronto

Gurinder Chadha is imminently likable.

Dressed in a fiery tangerine and cream coloured salwar-kameez and sporting a cheery smile, Gurinder talked about her yet-to-be-released film, Blinded by the Light in Toronto recently.

The film was Inspired by a true story, based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir, Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll.

Gurinder took on the helm as a director. The screenplay duties were shared by Manzoor, Gurinder and Paul Mayeda Berges (Gurinder’s husband). The film, set to the music and lyrics of Bruce Springsteen, captures the racial climate of the ‘80s in Britain.

Blinded by the Light is about how Javed (Viveik Kalra), a British teen of Pakistani descent, discovers Springsteen’s music, and in the process finds his own voice.

Well-known filmmaker Gurinder Chadha (R) was in Toronto for the International Film Festival of South Asia (IFFSA)-Toronto. Here she’s in conversation with Jake Dheer, member of IFFSA’s advisory council and senior manager, OMNI TV. Photo Toronto Desi Diaries.

Gurinder’s strength as a director is unmatched when it comes to telling stories of the South Asian diaspora. In Bend it like Beckham, she wove a rich and deft narrative using two large strands: culture and soccer, and in Light, she replaces soccer with music.

“It seemed as if presently there’s a common thread (of racism) and a lot of divisions around the world,” Gurinder observed. “This film will hopefully bring us together as humans and show there are more things that connect us than those that divide us.”

Gurinder’s face lights up when she talked about how Springsteen chuckled during the film. When it ended, he hugged and kissed her on her cheek.

“He loved it,” she said. “He loved it because he knew it wasn’t about him…”

Blinded by the Light is slated for release on August 14 and will be distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. The stage production of Bend it like Beckham, a musical, will make its North American debut in Toronto at the Bluma Apple Theatre, in downtown Toronto, from December 7 to 24.

For information on films screening during IFFSA-Toronto, visit here.

The May ’19 events calendar for South Asians in Toronto is packed with music, spirituality and more

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  • Gulzarish is a show that will showcase the poetry of well-known Bollywood lyricist and filmmaker Gulzar. The show is happening, May 16 at the Aga Khan Museum, 77 Wynford Dr. Toronto. Photo: Gulzarish.
  • IN5: Experium is an interactive and immersive exhibition featuring the Golden Temple. It’s installed at the Bramalea City Centre, 70 Peel Centre Dr. until June 16. Photo courtesy of IN5: Experium
  • Rhythm Rewritten with Jason Samuels and Seema Mehta featuring Emmy Award-wining tap-dancing phenomenon Jason Samuels Smith and acclaimed classical Indian kathak dancer Seema Mehta will take place at the Aga Khan Museum, 77 Wynford Dr. Toronto at 8 p.m.
  • A sketch of a South Asian man wearing an orange turban

Toronto Desi Diaries is back!

Thank you for your patience.
ICYMI: This blog will regularly feature news, stories, and events about the desis aka South Asians of Toronto. Sit back, relax, grab a cup of piping hot tea and allow us to take you down the alleys of the city.
Are you interested in guest-blogging for us? Do you have an event or concert coming up? Drop us a line or two at Toronto.desidiaries@gmail.com. Oh, it might be a good idea to subscribe to the blog.                                                            

Thursday, May 2-5

Event: Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD

Details: This event is for all things to do with books, authors, workshops and more. The Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) will kick-off in Brampton (across multiple venues). This event celebrates diversity in literature by shining the spotlight on authors of colour. There are more than 30 unique sessions happening at FOLD.
Contact: For tickets and schedule, visit here

Saturday, May 4

Event: Self-love & Self-care Conference

Details: Womxn Offering Wisdom (WOW) is inviting South Asian girls/women between the ages of 12 – 21 to join them for a day of workshops, discussions, activities, networking and more. The event will take place at Bill Hogarth Secondary School, 100 Donald Sim Ave. Markham, L6B 0R1 at 9 a.m.
Contact: wowyorkregion@gmail.com for tickets and information

May 9-20

Event: International Film Festival of South Asia (IFFSA)

Details: This 12-day film festival will showcase predominantly South Asian films and regional cinema including short films, documentaries, and music films. It takes place at multiple locations/cities across the GTA.
Contact: For itinerary/schedule, etc. visit here

Saturday, May 11

Event: Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega

Details: This charity musical concert benefitting Creating Hopes Canada will take place Century Gardens Recreation Centre, 340 Vodden St. E. in Brampton at 5:30 p.m. The evening will pay tribute to well-known music composers O.P. Nayyar and Shankar- Jaikishan. Cost of tickets is $20/person.
Contact: For tickets

Thursday, May 16

Event: Rhythm Rewritten with Jason Samuels and Seema Mehta

Details: This captivating new cross-art form, featuring Emmy Award-winning tap-dancing phenomenon Jason Samuels Smith and acclaimed classical Indian kathak dancer Seema Mehta will take place at the Aga Khan Museum, 77 Wynford Dr. Toronto at 8 p.m.
Contact: For tickets and more visit here

Wednesday, May 22

Event: Firangi Rang Barangi with Artist Meera Sethi

Details: Meera Sethi, a contemporary artist, who works in a variety of mediums explores the relationship between identity, dress, and hybridity, especially in relation to South Asian-Canadian histories and communities. She will speak at the Richmond Hill Public Library, Room A (second floor), 1 Atkinson St. Richmond Hill, ON L4C 0H5, at 7 p.m.
Contact: For more information/register, visit here

Sunday, May 26

Event: SOCH

Details: SOCH, a grassroots mental health initiative aimed at empowering the community of Brampton with mental health knowledge and awareness, will be hosting its monthly workshop on mental health at the Cyril Clark Library Theatre, 20 Loafers Lake Ln. from 1:30 – 3:30 p.m.
Contact: SOCH on Facebook

Friday, May 31

Event: Gulzarish

Details: Aga Khan Museum this May. Gulzarish, an artistic display of soulful poetry and captivating music of renowned lyricist and film director Gulzar is happening at the Aga Khan Museum, 77 Wynford Dr. at 7 p.m.  The unique combination of music, drama, and dance will be accompanied by superb narration. The event has been organized by Indian Women In Canada (iWINC).
Contact: Mini (416-727-9550) or Taran (647-887-2533)

April 16 – June 16

Event: IN5 Experium: The Golden Temple

The Ek Onkar symbol. This symbol represents the core of Sikkism. An interactive exhibit of the Golden Temple is here in Brampton until June 16, 2019.
The IN5- Experium, an interactive, one-of-a-kind exhibit presently running at the Bramalea City Centre, 25 Peel Centre Dr., will take the viewer on a tour of the Golden Temple and introduce them to the core tenets of the Sikh philosophy. The exhibit will run until June 16. Photo courtesy INS: Experium

Details: This immersive, multi-media exhibit uses multiple projection screens and music to create a world of make-belief, giving the viewer an immersive experience on Amritsar-located Golden Temple and the core tenets of Sikh philosophy. It’s currently showing at the Bramalea City Centre, 70 Peel Centre Dr. in Brampton.
Contact: For more information, visit here