Bazodee is a musical saga of love, which tells the story of Anita Panchourie, a young Trinidadian woman, who is about to be married to Bharat Kumar, a London educated man from a wealthy Indian family. But their marriage plans sour when she’s captured on social media “wining” [gyrating] on a calypsonian, Lee de Leon. Their budding feelings for each other make them both ‘bazodee’, thus the movie’s name.
‘Bazodee‘ is both a state of being [noun] and how you are [adjective]: you can become bazodee or go bazodee over someone or something [in love or in anger] and you can have bazodee, like a malady. the term comes from créole ‘bazourdi’, which comes from the french ‘abasourdi’ or the english stunned or dumbstruck. And by the time it reached Trinidad it became bazodee. The film Bazodee now playing at AMC and Pavilion theatres in NY, describes all of these feelings.
The story of Bazodee is much the same as any Hindi movie: a women or man torn between duty and desire- duty to please parents, and desire to follow one’s heart. It also has the father who falls into patriarchal rage when he finds out his dutiful daughter has an affair with a calypsonian. It follows the same Bollywood formula of song and dance, which helps develop the narrative in Hindi cinema – but the movie debunks Bollywood in many ways:
1. The film tells a woman’s story, not a man’s: Anita is the heroine and it is Lee who revolves around her, as well as the many other male characters: Bharat ; the father ; Nikhil and the other male characters dependent on Lee who’s dependent on Anita. In India’s film industry, aside from Priyanka Chopra and perhaps Madhuri Dixit once upon time [1990s] – roles are written for male stars, and women are created around the male leads. Perera was intrigued by playing in a leading, non stereotypical, and complex role as it is not often that you see an Asian female in the lead role from India or the Caribbean. Other than that Bollywood is very much a male dominated industry. Interestingly enough, when Indians came to Trinidad in 1834, it was the women who perpetuated and sustained Indian culture in the new island, via tan singing which evolved into chutney, which evolved into so many genres, and finally there is chutney soca, which we see Anita and Lee perform in Bazodee. Anita falls in love with a Trinidadian man of non-indian descent, and not the rich Indian à la Bollywood.
2. Anita’s the darkie – the untouchable – and both Bharat and Lee are the ones who are “wheatish” and “fair” – qualities that Indian parents always ask for in brides-to-be in their many-tentacled matrimonial sites and in Bollyworld. And if the actress is dark she’s lightened up to look wheatish or fair onscreen. But Anita is ‘dark and lovely’, as Nandita Das would say; she’s smooth-skinned, like dark chocolate with chipotle. Anita is the proud Nina Davuluri of Triniwood.
3. Anita’s the one who has a fling with another man, and we know this since the story is being told from her eyes. She gets what she wants and whom she wants. While that may happen in Bollywood especially these days when some roles being written for ‘strong’ women, these same roles are usually re-inscribed into patriarchy at the end of the film. The difference between Bazodee and a Bollywood film is that the man whom Anita chooses is NOT Indian, and he’s neither black nor ‘red’ nor ‘coco pagnol’ [local Spanish], and on top of all that he’s a Rastafarian. India won’t accept interracial relationships easily, only white: they already have huge problems with untouchables and dalits, usually dark of skin, like Anita. And certainly not a darkie and non-indian as we see in Bazodee. Anita rejects riches, religion, caste and chooses a Dougla [Black and Indian mix] who’s not rich, not of the same caste nor race as her. But that’s the cosmopolitan society in Trinidad – one which produces a whole lot of in-between folks like Lee, and then some: black Chinese, ‘Reds’, Douglas etc. That won’t happen in India or Bollywood – a quick look at this video and you will see Indians, Blacks and in-between folks dancing together.
- The sorority in the film is also non-Bollywood. She is surrounded by Poorvi whom she looks out for, and Lalima, who looks out for her. They protect each other and stand by each other even when Poorvi moves to London and Anita stays back in Trinidad when her wedding is canceled
- This ‘mixing’ – the chutney flavor [which Bollywood calls ‘masala’ in food and films] of the movie – is also reflected in the music, which the movie brings out crystal clearly with chutney-soca makeovers like Bollywood’s app jaisa koi mere beautifully rendered by Lee, a non-Indian and Anita, who both sing in both Hindi and Trinidadian dialect in the same breath, and in fact it is the music that draws them together. She ‘feels’ his music. It’s as though he was born out of her song if we follow the plot chronologically, the same way Ruby Sparks was born out of a novelist’s pen. The movie opens on Anita signing so beautifully ‘I forget” without music in her room while getting ready to go fetch her fiancé at the airport. Then the next scene jumps to the airport where Lee is languidly humming the same tune on his ukelele. He’s in dire need of inspiration, and Anita brings him back to life, but on her terms. Their relationship is born- not from caste or class or educational level [again à la Bollywood]- but from love of song and music. The chutney we hear in Lee’s songs has Indian, English and local dialects and flavors, with a calypso beat. If Indians didn’t participate in carnival before, today, it is often Indians who are the best panmen, and blacks beat dhols in tassa groups as good as any Indian, and both the Indian and African diasporas dance and celebrate side by side the rich culture in Trinidad & Tobago. The video at the end shows all the mixings in Machel’s performance of “I forget”
- Acculturation and transculturation in the Indian diaspora of Trinidad to which we are privy in the movie is exactly the way I saw it growing up. Trinidadians celebrate each other’s holy days – Christmas, Eid, Diwali, and Easter. Coming from a Hindu family, my Hindu mother made the same foods the Muslims and Christians made to observe their holy days. A brief history of Trinidad explains its cosmopolitan nature: according to a panel on east indians in the Caribbean [https://youtu.be/oxFrQd6lVzA]. French, Spanish, Portuguese and British came to Trinidad. Africans came in late 18 century with their British masters, Chinese came in 1806 from the Guangdong province, especially the Hakka people, and Indians in 1845, after slavery was abolished in 1838, and as indentured laborers [1845- 1917]. The Indians came first from Calcutta then Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Oudh, Chennai, West Bengal, Punjab etc …The women were Dalits mostly, and intermixing was prevented by Brits to keep blacks and Indians separate. But if slavery separated families then, now they all intermixed and married producing all kinds of mixes. The engagement party and the end of the film in the beach scene very much exemplify this mixing of people and music and the Trini spirit.
- The crew and cast are very multicultural, much like the island people of Trinidad and Tobago, and a cast that is not found in a Bollywood production. Starting with the script by the Bajan Claire Ince and produced by Ancil Mckain/Tobagonian, Steven Brown/ American [Dazed and Confused 1993, Grosse Pointe Bank 1997 and Wild Things 1998], Susana Bohnet of Cinemedia/Germany which funds and acquires rights for US films [What Women Want – Nancy Meyers 2000], and Lorraine O’Connor/Trinidadian and cultural activist/producer/promoter of Triniadad & Tobago culture. Ince and McKain both wanted the film to be global, and got Todd Kessler on board – the 7 time Emmy nominated American of the Game of Thrones, Blue’s Clues fame, and whose artistic work Malcolm Gladwell describes as ‘visionary and new world’ in Tipping Point [http://m.imdb.com/name/nm1383079/bio?ref_=m_mn_ov_bio]. Kessler called the movie “Triniwood”, a much more real and less glossy style than Bollywood. The cinematographer is Imre Juhasz/Hungarian, whose work from 1998 to the present number 37 short, TV and feature films according to IMDB. The actors also come from everywhere:
- the lead role is essayed by a female: Natalie Perera, a British born, Sri Lankan girl in the role of Anita
- Staz Nair is Russian/Indian living in London who is Qhono in Game of Thrones; he plays Bharat, Anita’s fiancé
- Machel Montano who needs no introduction in the Caribbean. Suffice it to say however, that he’s THE soca warrior in the mecca of soca, Trinidad & Tobago, and plays Lee
- Anita’s father is Kabir Bedi, who also needs no introduction in India [list too long to mention here] and even America [Octupussy] and plays Ram
- Cindy Daniel is Trinidadian, of mixed heritage plays Lalima
- Teneille Newallo, Trinidadian, but also of mixed heritage, is Anita’s cousin and confidante, Poorvi Panchouri
- Valmike Rampersad as Nikhil – the bad guy – who was born in Trinidad, but lives in the UK, and whose parents still live in Trinidad.
Bazodee is not about race, but races are needed to explain how Trinidad got to its acculturation and transculturation. Living in the USA, race makes you hyerpaware of who you are. Had I not left Trinidad race wouldn’t have been what it is now, but in America, you never walk that road [race] twice if you’ve walked it, and been stung or shot for being a different race. Bazodee is about races, but much more than race – the positive side of race. It is about living, and letting live as different races, creeds and classes come together which Montano calls ‘douglarization’ in an interview – and which is epitomized in Lalima’s make-up: she’s Indian, African, Venezuelan and Other. As the national anthem of Trinidad & Tobago says: “let every creed and race find an equal place, and may God bless our nation”.