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|July 9, 2001||
Heather Graham dances to Lata-Rafi tune!
Earlier this spring, Hesh Sarmalkar had auditioned for a speaking part for The Guru. He received three calls but didn't hear a word from the production company.
"As an actor you learn to digest this," Sarmalkar says, at his Manhattan home. "You don't wait by the phone and you don't start calling your agent or manager. When I never heard from them, I just assumed I never got the role."
But the stars had different plans for Sarmalkar.
For a sequence of events eventually led him to work as a cultural consultant for a British film produced by Shekar Kapur, filmed in New York and India.
One of his major responsibilities was to train The Guru's lead actors -- Jimi Mistry (East Is East and The Mystic Masseur) and Heather Graham (Boogie Nights and Bowfinger), to lip sync and dance to a 1961 Hindi film song that appears in the film, in a dream sequence.
The Guru (originally titled The Guru Of Sex), a comedy about a young Indian man's misadventures in New York, is scheduled to be released in 2002.
Directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer (Madeline) from Tracey Jackson's script, it also stars Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny and The Perez Family) and Emil Marwa (one of Mistry's East Is East costars).
Sarmalkar's manager called back to say that the role he was auditioning for had been eliminated during a script rewrite. Instead, he could participate in a dance sequence.
A meeting with Maryann Kellog, The Guru's choreographer, led the two to a discussion on the song and dance sequences that form a vital part of the structure of a Hindi film.
"She asked me for a lot of artistic and cultural advice about a typical Hindi film; about the costumes worn in song sequences, the chemistry between the extras and the leads."
Kellog also saw Sarmalkar's family pictures including those of his granduncle, film-maker V Shantaram. Eventually, Kellog took Sarmalkar on board as cultural consultant.
The song that was selected was a Lata Mangeshkar-Mohammed Rafi duet -- Kya mil gaya hai, kya kho gaya, from the 1961 film, Sasural.
In the film, the song is picturised with the lead actors Rajendra Kumar and B Saroja Devi -- dancing around trees, bushes and fountains.
There was a lot of discussion prior to the selection of the song, Sarmalkar says. Several suggestions, including songs from the 1980s were rejected, because they reflected Western influences.
Also ruled out were songs from two of Sarmalkar's favourite films -- Chandni and Khuda Gawah. Eventually, the director and choreographer settled for the Sasural song, as it reflected the rhythm and tempo of the film.
Sarmalkar set out to transcribe the song in English and explain its meaning to Jimi Mistry and Heather Graham. He even sang and recorded the song so that the actors could take the tape home and memorise the song.
"Heather Graham, besides being gorgeous, is so talented," he says. "And the lip sync, the words and the pronunciation, she picked up very quickly. She knew the entire lyrics by heart."
The sequence, which will last for around three minutes in the film, was shot over two days at the United Methodist Church, Harlem, New York.
Sarmalkar, who does not like to disclose his age ("I am anywhere between my late 20s and late 30s," he says), holds a day job as an event coordinator at New York's Asia Society and has acted in a couple of Off Broadway productions and student films.
Prior to the shoot, Sarmalkar also helped in the casting of the extras -- young South Asian dancers from New York who responded to the casting call.
"I think the sequence will fall in place," Sarmalkar says, "After the use of Chamma chamma in Moulin Rouge you can see the gradual interest and appreciation of the Hindi film industry in Hollywood.
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