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January 2006

Cookie Monster to Smart Cookie: Sesame Street goes Desi!

��� As a long-running children's program on PBS, Sesame Street has expanded its reach and appeal not just by having a more diverse cast for the domestic market, but also by coming up with new variations for international viewers. Currently available in 120 nations, the show has 25 co-productions, including one that's being developed for the Indian market, where the characters will be made more suitable for local children. "Big Bird was also eliminated in this version, replaced by a seven-foot lion named Boombah, who for now speaks in Hindi but eventually will master other tongues in a nation with 15 official languages, excluding English," states The New York Times.

��� With a reported target audience of over 157 million kids in India alone, it's no surprise that an enterprising mom in the U.S., Deepa Rajagopal, has also jumped on the bandwagon and come out with educational videos for toddlers and preschoolers. Reasonably priced, the three DVDs in her Smart Cookie series are titled Pyjama Party, Yay! Yay! It's Picnic Day, and Birthday Fun. Given the natural emphasis on fun, learning is promoted through an inventive use of nursery rhymes, songs, dance and games. "As a parent, I wanted an attention grabbing, entertaining and educational video that not only reinforces the ABCs and 123s but also the social skills (sharing, togetherness, good habits, manners) taught to them," she says. The participating desi children, along with the lightly added desi touches, make the programs distinctive. For more details on this "65 minute brain food for kids between 1 and 5" (according to a blurb from The Indian Express), write to deepa_rajagopal@smart-cookie.com.���

Hanuman's exploits entertain new generation

��� Much has been made of India's recent breakthrough in the making of animated feature films. What's noteworthy about Hanuman, a 2-D movie that runs for 90 minutes, is its popularity among youngsters who ? like earlier generations ? seem to be enthralled by the adventures and magical feats of this mythological Monkey-God. One oft-repeated tale of him as a child is how he leaped to catch the sun, mistaking it for a mango. Directed by V.G. Samant, with Mukesh Khanna providing the voice of Hanuman, the film took four years to make, involving 120 people and about 150,000 illustrations. A son of the Wind God and a female Apsara, Hanuman attains superhero status after being blessed with godly powers, and it's his derring-do and the gift of immortality that allow him to play a crucial role in the epic battles of the Ramayana. Also worth mentioning is another 90-minute production called Hanuman, which has no animation and is in English and French with English subtitles. Shot on location in the historic town of Hampi, India, with Tabu playing a supporting role, the movie has a more conventional and contemporary plot about a youth's experiences in the Valley of Monkeys.

Bollywood beats on B4U

��� By providing regular entertainment to millions of desis in more than 100 countries, B4U has become a global TV channel for Bollywood. Originally launched in the U.K. to showcase films, it went international six months later and now reaches people all over via eight different satellites, including the DISH Network in the U.S. The latest offering is called B4U Music, which focuses on songs and shows round the clock to feed the desi diaspora's insatiable appetite for Indian popular culture. "The channel features the biggest musical hits from the latest Bollywood movies and Bollywood music charts, as well as dance hits from the United States and Europe's South Asian scene," notes EchoStar Communications, the parent company. "B4U Music also features exclusive star interviews from India and interactive request shows." With 14 million viewers in just India, B4U Music is supposedly transmitted to more fans than any other South Asian music channel on TV. Bajao, Full Volume, Naach and Kadak are some of the programs routinely shown on B4U Music. Full Volume features Indipop hits and Hindi songs, while Naach ? as the name implies ? emphasizes music that appeals to dancers.

Literati discover forgotten Indian classics

��� The NYRB Classic Series, a well-received imprint of The New York Review of Books, "reintroduces some of the many remarkable books that have fallen out of print, or simply out of sight, in recent years." Included among the more than 100 titles released so far are some Indian works that are finding a wider readership in this country, some for the first time. An example is Upamanyu Chatterjee's critically acclaimed bestseller from the late ‘80s, English, August: An Indian Story, which hasn't been published in the U.S. until now. A hallmark of the series is that each of these attractively produced paperbacks has an introduction by a notable author. For Chatterjee's forthcoming English, August ? dubbed the "Indian Catcher in the Rye" ? Akhil Sharma does the honors. Amit Chaudhuri pens the introduction for Jejuri, a cycle of lyric poems by Arun Kolatkar that won the Commonwealth Prize in the ‘70s. Another reissue, J.G. Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur, introduced by Pankaj Mishra, is a Booker Prize-winning novel about the sepoy revolt of 1857. Other releases include Nirad C. Chaudhuri's The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian and J.R. Ackerley's Hindoo Holiday: An Indian Journal. "NYRB Classics is a terrific reprint line ? really amazingly fine in its choice of titles and in the design of the books," gushes a prominent reviewer.

Marking the 50th anniversary of Saund's achievement

��� Half a century ago, Californian Dalip Singh Saund became the first immigrant from Asia to be elected to the U.S. Congress. In the pre-1965 era, this achievement was nothing short of spectacular for somebody who was born in rural Punjab at the turn of the century. So it's appropriate that the U.S. House of Representatives, which honored Saund last year, has now authorized the commissioning of his portrait. It will be unveiled in a year and gain a permanent place in the rotunda of Capitol Hill. Having come to this country back in 1920, Saund went on to receive a doctorate in mathematics from the University of California at Berkley. During a period of intense anti-immigrant sentiments and restrictive policies, he fought tenaciously for the rights of Asians and even managed to establish himself as an important player in the Democratic Party. Saund won not one but three terms as a Congressman and had to step down only because he suffered a stroke. His many accomplishments include the gaining of citizenship rights for Asian immigrants and the promotion of foreign aid through the Saund Amendment. Given that few Indians came to the States before 1906, as historians point out, the current year also marks a century of immigration from the subcontinent. As a leading pioneer of an earlier era, Dalip Singh Saund ? perhaps more than any other Indian ? paved the way for later immigrants. He died in 1973.

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