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

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Clash of values

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.

Clash of values

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.

Clash of values

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.

 

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Pineapple !

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This is the second of our two-part blog series on Prashant Tiwari. RIP, kiddo.

20-year-old Prashant Tiwari was an aspiring hip-hop singer who suffered from depression. He killed himself while on suicide watch at a local hospital. His friends said his life will remain an inspiration for them. Supplied photo.

20-year-old Prashant Tiwari was an aspiring hip-hop singer who suffered from depression. He killed himself while on suicide watch at a local hospital. His friends say he will live in their hearts, always. Supplied photo.

If you were among the people that attended Prashant’s funeral, you probably witnessed an odd ritual.

Moments before his body was taken for cremation, the silent hall was punctuated with cries of “pineapple!”

The prickly tropical fruit, it so happens, was a buzzword for four young struggling musicians who wanted to communicate with the world and bring change through their lyrics and music.

Mayank Paul, 19, a member of Definition, a hip-hop group that Prashant belonged to, explained the chant.

A few years ago, Mayank Paul (MP), Shehzeb Iftakhar (Devious), Sukhman Dulay (Dulay) and Prashant Tiwari (PT), all members of Definition, were shooting the breeze and brainstorming about taking the world by storm, when PT, the ever pragmatic one among them, pointed out the obvious: their music was way too complex for the average human.

“He (Prashant) said we need to take all our lyrics and dumb them down,” Mayank recalled. “So, we were like, how do you dumb stuff down?”

“We need to say smart stuff stupidly,” Prashant quipped. “Yo, say anything on track, say, pineapple…”

And so “pineapple” became the mantra they used often when trying to connect with the quirky world that— at times — didn’t get them.

On a recent summer day, ten days after he was admitted to the local hospital, Prashant, hanged himself. He was under suicide watch. But, while he was in the hospital, his friends and family visited him daily.

“He couldn’t accept a lot of things and so, he wanted to change a lot of things,” Mayank said. “In one of the last conversations we had with him, he told us, we shouldn’t blame ourselves for the situation he had put himself in.”

During his short and troubled stint on this earth, all Prashant Tiwari ever wanted was, the world to validate his existence.

Definition members met by happenstance while in high school and connected. They all had one thing in common: an itch to transform the world, one hip-hop song at a time.

The quartet believed there was a growing feeling of alienation among teens today. School administrators couldn’t care less. Worse, no one in their immediate world, had the inclination or time to listen, coach or guide them.

Prashant was funny and wise. He was a jester and a philosopher. He understood the black and white shades of life, but could not handle the gray areas.

Not a day goes by when Gautam Tiwari, 17, (Prashant’s kid brother) doesn’t miss him.

“Depression doesn’t happen suddenly,” Gautam said. “It builds up. When kids leave high school, we are completely left in the dark. There’s a huge pressure to go to university. We have counsellors in school, I am not sure, if they are trained in mental health, they should be. Prashant was a driven person, but depression eats away at you slowly.”

School wasn’t Prashant’s thing. He wanted to be a rapper. Music was his salvation; his antidote to keeping the monster that was depression at bay.

“We were all pretty serious about making music that would make an impact,” Mayank said. “One of the things people should know about Prashant was that he wanted to discipline himself to the point nothing would faze him. He focused on his body and mind. Do you know any 19-year-olds interested in taking Sanskrit classes? Prashant wanted to learn the vedas and use them as references to guide his mind, body and spirit…”

“He always stood-up for what was right,” he continued. “Prashant had no problem saying anything that was in his mind. He was a very funny guy. He always did spontaneous things…”

There’s a huge expectation in our society to succeed, but what’s success? And who defines it?

Definition will be releasing an album soon that will include a track called No More that Prashant recorded a long time ago.

Prashant, you said it right. Ultimately, all existence comes down to the pineapple philosophy.

 

Who killed Prashant Tiwari?

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  Prashant Tiwari, 20, seen here in this 2013 photograph taken at the airport in Paris. Prashant suffered from depression and was on a suicide watch when he committed suicide at Brampton Civic Hospital. The hospital has been reluctant to share details.


Prashant Tiwari, 20, seen here in this 2013 photograph, suffered from depression and was on suicide watch when he committed suicide at Brampton Civic Hospital. The hospital has been reluctant to share details.

That’s an easy one.

A gamut of systems— health, school and society—failed Prashant Tiwari.

Trapped in an abyss of darkness and hopelessness, Prashant probably felt he had no choice, but to finish the task he had set in motion a few days earlier when he grabbed a knife and stabbed himself repeatedly on the torso, neck and other parts of his body.

At that time, he could have harmed himself fatally; but instead he reached out in despair and asked his father for help. In the ER, Prashant clung on to a weak thread of hope and placed his trust— and life — on a team of professional all sworn on the Hippocratic oath.

On June 26, at approximately 2 a.m., the 20-year-old — who was supposedly on a suicide watch at Brampton Civic Hospital (BCH) — removed his clothes and fashioned a noose around his neck. He then climbed on to a chair and proceeded to hang himself from a vent in the washroom. His body was discovered three hours later.

A retired nurse that I spoke to recently expressed surprise at the circumstances surrounding Prashant’s death. Apparently, patients placed on suicide watch cannot wander into the washroom, unsupervised. How’s it that, she wondered, for three hours no one bothered to check on a high-risk patient who had few days earlier slashed himself and needed multiple stitches?

I’m certain, it must not have been easy for Prashant’s still-grieving family to revisit and share details of his life and death. Yet they did.

The raw grief on their faces as they talked about him was heartbreaking. Both Rakesh (dad) and Gautam (brother) talked candidly without sugarcoating the truth because they want Prashant’s story to be a lesson and a wake-up call for families nursing a relative with mental health issues.

“No child or a human being wants to die,” said a distraught Rakesh. “It’s only when you experience total hopelessness or have a mental illness where you have no control over your own actions that the idea of death and dying will come to your mind. Prashant was a disturbed child who reached out to authorities in his school, his guidance counsellor and in the last few days of his life to the healthcare professionals. No one helped him…”

Prashant, a child of divorce, for some odd reason blamed himself for the fracturing of his parents’ marriage. He carried guilt, truckloads of it.

Distraught father Rakesh Tiwari has been running from pillar to post seeking answers around the death of his son, Prashant. Prashant was on a suicide-watch at the Brampton Civic Hospital (BCH) when he took his life.

Distraught father Rakesh Tiwari has been running from pillar to post seeking answers around the death of his son, Prashant. Prashant was on a suicide-watch at the Brampton Civic Hospital (BCH) when he took his life.

As the drama of life unfolded in the Tiwari household with custody battles and divorce proceedings, a young bewildered child unwittingly became the collateral damage in the saga of life. He was four-years-old or even less when the world stopped making sense.

Following the divorce, Prashant went to live with his mother, but somehow a few years later, he ended up in the foster care system.

Try and imagine the confusion of a young innocent child trying to come to terms with abandonment and rejection. The effect of his turbulent childhood soon began to manifest.

Prashant was troubled and exhibited behavioural problems typical of a child that had seen more than its share of upheavals. Labeled a troublemaker, he was suspended numerous times for his difficult behavior and later for smoking pot.

In Grade 10, Prashant turned into a new leaf. He became a peer leader at school and was active in sports. The insidious demon that was depression surfaced every now and then, but the resilient young man fought bravely.

He told Rakesh that he had sought help from his guidance counsellor and his principal. He criticized the school for not doing enough to help students like himself exhibiting signs of mental health issues.

If we are looking for irony, how’s this? Prashant graduated from Mississauga Secondary School in 2012. A year before that, the school made headlines when a gruesome incident of murder-suicide involving a student occurred.

Akash Wadhwa, 16, jumped to his death (from the Hwy. 401 overpass near Mavis Road), after murdering fellow student, Kiranjit Nijjar.

Much like Prashant, Akash suffered from depression. As news of Akash’s and Kiranjit’s deaths rocked the school and the community, Prashant felt the school had let Akash down.

Prashant’s death has unearthed a can of crawling worms.

He was on a suicide watch, so why was he left unsupervised? What was a chair doing in the washroom? Why was the hospital initially reluctant to conduct an internal autopsy? And more importantly, why are the circumstances surrounding his death still cloaked in secrecy?

In my next blog entry, I will reveal details of Prashant’s life leading up to his death including chatting with his friends. Stay tuned.

Spitty’s fiery poetry has undertones of some serious stuff

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Toronto Hip Hop musician Spitty is making quiet waves for his music. The rapper tackles social issues such as mental health, addiction and teenage pregnancy in his work. Supplied photo

Toronto Hip Hop musician Spitty is making quiet waves for his music. The rapper tackles social issues such as mental health, addiction and teenage pregnancy in his music.
Supplied photo

Most Hip Hop musicians wear a “bad boy/bad girl” vibe like an accessory.

So, when a shy and polite Lankesh Patel agreed to share his passion for that genre of music, he was a far cry from the in-your-face musician, I imagined he would be.

When I say “Lankesh Patel” what does the name evoke? It probably elicits an image of a good-looking Gujju lad probably studying a STEM ( science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program, juggling long-hours at a summer job to pay for his tuition and importantly, a dutiful son on his way to fulfilling the modest dreams of his immigrant parents.

Dead on.

Now, I urge you to scratch the surface. Spitty, an immensely talented, hip-hop artist with a natural flair for music, will emerge. Spitty sports a beard, wears a ball cap, black tee and nondescript jeans, mercifully not a sagger. The silver chain around his neck could pass off as bling, but even that is not an overt symbol.

Then as you listen to his music, Lankesh quietly and completely disappears. The torrent of words— stringed in a rhythmic beat— escape Spitty lips like gallons of water gushing out of a pipeline. This kid was definitely born to rap.

“Whenever I meet people and have to tell them who I am, I don’t tell them I am a computer science student, I tell them I am a rapper,” he said. “I don’t enjoy anything else as much as I do rapping. That’s who I am.”

It was during elementary school that Lankesh found his inner rapper. He recalled how he would have a spring in his step when walking to the bus stop because he rapped the entire distance.

“Poetry and rap are very similar, yet different,” he said. “Whenever we had to do artistic writing in school, I got good grades, so I figured if I could write, I could probably make it into a song.”

Unlike the profanity-laced verses of well-known names populating this genre, Lankesh’s lyrics are PG, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t push the envelope.

Take for instance his latest video— Life— shot in fabulous Toronto where he talks about prostitution, pregnancy and what not.

Everybody’s out here struggling, we all grew up in our own way, cause life ain’t never nothing fair…

“In (Life) I tried to write lyrics to depict the sadder aspects of life, but at the same time create a song and video that enforce positivity and appreciation,” he says. “I just hope this video/song helps people take a minute to appreciate what they have and maybe think about how they can help out others.”

Spitty has won prizes for tackling serious issues such as mental health and addiction. Speaking of which, Lankesh’s rap video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford dubbed Tom Ford went viral.

Similarly, in his song, Brampton, he pays ode to his hometown B-town. After the song and Lankesh’s story were featured in the local newspaper (the one I work for), city officials invited him to be part of Canada Day celebrations. In the video, Spitty pays homage to all famous Bramptonians and they include: NBA stars Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett; stand-up comedy king Russell Peters, super-funny and Superbad Michael Cera and others.

When I pointed out to the absence of heavy-metal bling on his body, Lankesh-the-good-kid shyly smiled. I figured, neither the bling—or the sagger— would have gone well with his parents, particularly his grandmother, who driven by absolute love for her grandson can be coaxed into listening a rap song or two, but strictly Spitfire music only.

“To this day, I have never sworn in a song,” Lankesh said. “I have never talked about sex or violence, although I talk about stopping violence. My music is about who I am and since I am not in a gang and I don’t do drugs, I don’t talk about those things…”

“When I first started, I didn’t even know what to tell my parents, so I didn’t tell them anything,” he said. “Eventually, we had contests in schools and I always entered these. I used rap to make the videos creative. When I started winning the contests, my parents were okay with it. Though, I don’t know if they know what I am saying in my videos…”

 

This app creator for Apple is a 10-year-old wunderkid

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Tanmay Bakshi, 10, has successfully developed an app for Apple. His aptitude for computing and coding has made him a celebrity in Canada and abroad. Photo by Radhika Panjwani

Tanmay Bakshi, 10, has successfully developed an app for Apple. His aptitude for computing and coding has made him a celebrity in Canada and abroad.
Photo by Radhika Panjwani

I am not usually intimidated when interviewing ten year olds, but while chatting with a pint-sized  prodigy whose app was accepted by Apple recently, I was momentarily speechless.

The reason probably had more to do with the fact the kid was clearly a genius, whereas, I have had a long-standing feud with numbers, integers and what have you.

Dressed in gray buttoned-down shirt and red sweater vest, a bespectacled Tanmay Bakshi, looked like any other elementary school student, until he started to speak. Not only could he hold on his own, his passion and love for coding lit up his entire face.

Tanmay’s app —tTables —helps children learn times tables. The premise of the free app is quite simple. As you answer multiplication questions, you will either be rewarded with the sound of applause at a correct answer or the ominous sound of buzzing bees when the answer is incorrect.

The cool fact is Tanmay tweaked and perfected his app while in Grade 4 after a chat with his teacher Vikram Ignatius. Turns out, that conversation was an eye-opener because an animated Tanmay, couldn’t wait for the dismissal bell at school to ring. He simply wanted to get home and start the process.

A couple of rejections later, last year, the family received news Apple was finally satisfied and had accepted Tanmay’s creation. The entire process of development took the then nine-year-old a little under two months.

“He has been breaking computers since kindergarten,” said Puneet Bakshi, Tanmay’s dad, a computer programmer himself. “I initiated his learning, but when he felt joy, he carried it on.”

Sitting on the knees of his father even before he could learn to walk or talk, Tanmay learned the basics. His curiosity and love for computers was so great that by Grade 3, he had mastered C, Visual Basic, Python, FoxPro, C, SQL, XCode and Apple-specific languages.

Today, he has lost count of the number of languages he’s skilled at. There’s simply too many. When his fingers fly over the keyboard of his Mac pro, his eyes decipher the meanings of algorithms easily.

The Grade 5 student at Great Lakes Elementary School, is adept at navigating the virtual world of coding, just as easily as an adult that has spend years studying it.

“His power of concentration can be absolute when he’s on the computer, yet he can multitask just as easily,” said Sumita Bakshi, Tanmay’s mother. “Some days, he will be watching a movie or a show, laughing at the punch lines and simultaneously coding on the laptop in front of him.”

So far, tTables has had 6,000 downloads. Not to rest on his previous laurels, Tanmay, the young entrepreneur, has followed his first masterpiece with an encore. His tTables+ is a bilingual app available in both English and French.

Every moment he can spend exploring, decoding and unraveling the world of operating systems and applications is a happy one. The only minor annoyances in the way are stuff like homework, dinner, sleep and probably explaining his work to adults who have no clue.

The Bakshis moved to Canada via England in 2004. Like most immigrant parents, they arrived with few bags of luggage and a whole lot of dreams.

!0-year-old Tanmay seen here with his dad and teacher Puneet Bakshi. Puneet proudly shows of the laptop that Tanmay broke when he was a mere toddler.

!0-year-old Tanmay seen here with his dad and teacher Puneet Bakshi. Puneet proudly shows of the laptop that Tanmay broke when he was a mere toddler.

Sumita and Puneet work extremely hard to create opportunities for their two children.

After the word of his app got out, more than three dozen media outlets—in Canada and abroad— clamored to interview Tanmay. He’s somewhat a minor celebrity. Tanmay basks in the love of his mom, dad and big sister Tanvi, 19, who’s an inspiration to her brother and vice-versa.

“When I grow up, I want to work with computers,” says Tanmay without hesitation. “What are my hobbies? Computers. What do I speak with my classmates about? Computers. If there was one thing I could do all the time? Coding.”

Ethnic media and Teflon mayors

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According to the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada there some 75 South Asian newspapers; 55 broadcast companies scattered across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). These papers consider themselves "opinion builders."

There are some 75 South Asian newspapers; 55 broadcast companies scattered across the GTA. (Source: National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada) These papers consider themselves “opinion builders” and can be picked-up from any ethnic grocery store.

Last year, Brampton’s Mayor Susan Fennell, doled out her best wishes—through official press releases — to the city’s South Asians for a slew of desi festivals.

Fennell’s attempt to endear herself to the city’s South Asians may have something to do with the upcoming municipal elections.

If the editor of a Punjabi daily is to be believed, Fennell will win despite a controversy surrounding her use of taxpayers’ monies for travel and tourism.

While the mainstream media, including the one I work for, has been receiving a deluge of letters from citizens expressing outrage at Fennell’s penchant for first-class travel, the ethnic media is in a forgiving mood.

Similarly, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford—a public relations nightmare — has the support of many from Chinese community, says Arjuna Ranawana, manager, OMNI Toronto.

Ranawana should know.

His news outlet is a fixture at ethnic events, be it a celebration, festival or an issue of national importance. In short, OMNI has its ears to the ground.

So, in the wake of Ford’s cocaine scandal, when OMNI News’ Mandarin and Cantonese speaking crew took to the streets of Toronto’s China Town, they found many people were still solidly behind Ford. Huh, who knew? But that scenario can change if Olivia Chow decides to throw her hat in the ring, said Ranawana, a member of the Canadian Ethnic Media Association (CEMA).

“Our niche and our effectiveness comes because we are very connected to the ethnic community, not just to the newer communities like the Chinese and the South Asians, but older ones like the Italians and the Polish,” he said. “When two generations of families are born here, they become consumers of mainstream media. We serve the older generation and new immigrants. Our strength lies in the fact that we are able to report Canadian content in people’s language of comfort.”

This tenacious connection, believe it or not, is a huge deal to those otherwise isolated because of language barriers.

The National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada, whose mandate is to promote and integrate the interests of ethnic communities into the mainstream, says there some 75 South Asian newspapers; 55 television and radio outlets scattered across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Those numbers reflect the group’s appetite for politics. It doesn’t matter which country they hail from, the desis are vocal. In Toronto, any grocery store that stocks curry powder, vegetables and condiments, will also house boxes holding stacks of free newspapers in Punjabi, Hindi, English, Tamil and Urdu.

Jagdish Grewal, editor/publisher, Canada Punjabi Post, believes Fennell will be re-elected again.

“The Punjabi community will still support Mayor Susan Fennell,” Grewal told me. “She’s very outgoing and has developed links with every single organization. She attends all functions and has build personal relationship with everyone.”

A few years ago, when the Indian International Film Festival Awards (IIFA) came to Toronto, Fennell walked the carpet in a cerulean blue salwar-kameez (traditional dress) to take in the premiere of a mindless three-hour Bollywood caper. At that time I remember thinking only a seasoned politician can sit through that ordeal.