Saturday, August 29, 2009

Background to Indian Cowboy Movie

 Guntastic world: (left) Telugu superstar Rajendra Prasad plays the gun-wielding, bovine-loving superhero; (top, from left) Gunpowder, Locket Lover, Rice Plate Reddy and Mango Dolly. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint

I posted recently about a new Indian (subcontinent) cowboy flick -- Quick Gun Murugun.

Here's an article about the background to the character, by Anindita Ghose: "How the iconic dosa-eating superhero, Quick Gun Murugun, broke out of his shelved television avatar on to the big screen." The article also provides biographical info and an interview with the director. (The photo is from

Seems Quick Gun Murugun started out as promotional spots for a new TV channel.

The promos were a comic juggernaut. Featuring an over-the-top character called Murugun fashioned on B-grade Tamil film heroes, they were designed to counter similar MTV spots, albeit with an Indian flavour.
Telugu actor Rajendra Prasad plays Murugun on the big screen. A veteran of over 200 Tamil, Telugu and Kannada films, the 57-year-old portrays the swashbuckling hero with alarming comic effectiveness. The story revolves around an epic battle between vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism wherein gunslinging Murugun fights against all odds to prevent his nemesis, Rice Plate Reddy, from opening a non-vegetarian Udupi joint, McDosa. The film also marks the return of actor Rambha (Mango Dolly), back after a sabbatical and donning a stunning blonde wig that the producers claim cost Rs15 lakh (it was sourced from Los Angeles). Other characters, such as Gunpowder, Masala News Reporter and Locket Lover, complete the array of Tamil movie clichés.

Read full article

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Prague -- The American Frontier in European Imagination

An exhibition in Prague illustrates (literally) early images of America -- the Frontier -- in the European Imagination. Dinah Spritzer reports in the New York Times:

European graphic artists depict the drama of colonization in the exhibition “Savoring America: The New World in 16th- to 19th-Century Prints,” at the quiet Schwarzenberg Palace (Hradcanske namesti 2), a recently restored Baroque gem a short walk from the castle gate. Displayed in a single room, the prints reflect the initial perception of the New World as a savage land, hence the darkly comic pun in the exhibit name.
Seems that the exhibit focuses on the Land of Savagery image, rather than the Land of Promise (as described in Ray Billington's great book, Land of Savagery, Land of Promise: The European Image of the American Frontier in the Nineteenth Century (which can be read online).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

DT's Visas OK

Bea Flaming reports that Druha Trava's visa delay has been cleared up.

Thanks to the tenacity of Greg Buhr working from Minnesota Senator Al Franken's office, I just received word a few minutes ago that Druha Trava's visa petition has been approved! Greg left a message last Thursday at USCIS, then spent 55 minutes holding on the phone on Friday waiting to speak with the Congressional Liaison there, and called again this morning receiving a promise that they would make a ruling on the petition today! He kept working it until they acted. They called him just a bit ago and he immediately called me. Since the US Embassy in Prague is ready to interview Druha Trava, all should go well from here on out! Bea Flaming - DT US Representative

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Druha Trava's U.S. tour threatened by visa delay
DT's instruments and screen image of the Obamas and Czech leaders. Photo from

Next month's U.S. tour of the "Czechgrass" band Druha Trava, the band that played ahead of President Obama's speech in Prague earlier this year, is being threatened by delays in processing their visa requests. The Druha Trava web site reports that if the visas, which were applied for in May, do not come through, the band will have to cancel the 10-state, 18-gig tour, which is due to begin Sept. 4.

DT's U.S. representative Bea Flaming reports, on the web site:
It seems so ridiculous that this band, who performed for an hour at Prague Castle before President Obama's speech there last April, are having such a hard time getting visa approval this year (especially after getting visas every year since 1993, except last year when we canceled the tour before we even filed for visas).

I first FedExed Druha Trava's visa petition on Friday, May 15 this year and I got notification that USCIS received it on Monday, May 18 with Receipt Number: WAC0916351796. According to the USCIS website it should take two months or less to process I-129 petitions for P-1 visas. I have been eagerly awaiting an approval notice since mid July.

On Tuesday, August 18 I received a letter from USCIS detailing more information and documentation that they wanted, including signed contracts for all booked gigs (I have been signing the papers that lawyers have been filing on my/Druha Trava's behalf since 2004 and I've never before had to provide signed contracts for every single gig, just for a representative number of them, but this is the first time I have filed by myself, as DT's beloved friend, Mary Gardner, who for a dozen years gather materials and paid the lawyers on our behalf, died of cancer last year).

Read the entire post from the DT web site

Another Indian (subcontinent) Cowboy Movie In The Works

Reports from New Delhi announce that a new "Indian Western" movie called "Quick Gun Murugun: The Misadventures of an Indian Cowboy" will be released August 28, in four languages.

The movie's web site features an amazing picture of the hero, with long sideburns, a pencil moustache, wearing a pink satin neckerchief, green satin shirt and leopard-spotted vest. The site has a lot of interactive content, including a trailer, pictures, dialogue, etc.

It describes Quick Draw as
an unlikely Superhero with Guntastic powers. He is a sincere South Indian Cowboy who considers it his duty to serve and protect. The movie revolves around mis-adventures of Quick Gun Murugun and his fight with his arch villain Rice Plate Reddy!
The Business Standard runs an interview about it with the film's director, Shashank Ghosh.

According to Ghosh:
It’s the story of a sincere south Indian cowboy who considers it his duty to serve and protect people and cows. The hero — who dies early on in the film —wants to encourage vegetarianism. His arch rival — and the villain of the film — is Rice Plate Reddy, a staunch non-vegetarian who wants the world to convert to non-vegetarianism.

Ghost says he realizes the storyline is a bit weird -- and held up production of the film for years.
You won’t believe it, but the film’s special effects alone took one year. Besides, the synopsis is so different and out-of-the-box that producers whom I approached laughed and laughed but refused to back the project till Anand Surapur’s Phat Phish Motion Pictures decided to back it.
Read the full article

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Czech Republic -- Leading Bluegrass Musician Milan Leppelt Dies

The late Milan Leppelt (r) and his band Bluegrass Cwrkot, at the Banjo Jamboree, Caslav, CZ, 2007. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Milan Leppelt, a leading Czech bluegrass musician, has died, aged 49, following a heart attack apparently triggered by a wasp sting. Leppelt was a longtime member of the band Bluegrass Cwrkot and very active in the Czech bluegrass scene -- the (proportionally) biggest bluegrass scene in Europe.

See an obituary on the European Bluegrass Music Association Blog:
His death is also a great loss to Bluegrass Cwrkot (he was their banjo-player since 1991, and wrote most of the band's original material); to the Bluegrass Association of the Czech Republic (for whom he was membership secretary and chief contact with the EBMA); to the Czech bluegrass scene in general; and to its links with bluegrass in the rest of Europe.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Italy -- and "Dallas"

The iconic TV soap Dallas, with its Southfork Ranch, was a big influence in how many Europeans viewed the West -- and it, of course was a figment of the Imagination. Not long ago Larry Hagman, one of the stars of the show, was guest of honor at the big Mirande country music festival in France.

This blog post -- Ferragosto -- Southfork Style -- recalls how some people in Italy thought it all was real....

When I would travel to Italy in the 1980’s and 1990’s, when the Italian winemakers found out I lived in Dallas, their mom or aunt would always ask me how Sue Ellen was or if I knew J.R. So real was that show to them, especially in Sicily and Calabria, that I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I never met them. But I told the aunts and the moms that the Ewings were doing just fine. “Well, you tell J.R. to treat Sue Ellen better,” one would say, or another would comment, “Sue Ellen, she needs to drink less whiskey and more wine, we worry about her.” I kid you not.

Read Full Post on the On the Wine Trail in Italy blog

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Bluegrass - After La Roche-2

Bill Monroe LP -- of Bill Monroe in Germany -- on sale at La Roche bluegrass festival in France. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

After reading my previous post about the International Bluegrass Festival in La Roche sur Foron, France, a friend of mine suggested that I attend a bluegrass fest in Guthrie, Oklahoma to make a comparison. Actually, I've never been to a bluegrass or country music festival in the United States! The closest I've got, probably, is going to the Grand Ol' Opry, and, in my extreme youth, to the Philadelphia Folk Festival and to various "pickin'" sessions at home by various friends.

It goes without saying, therefore, that, given my iterations around the European country music and bluegrass festival scene, I would indeed love to drop in on some in the U.S.... until then, what I have for a fascinating bluegrass model is a book called Bluegrass Odyssey: A Documentary in Pictures and Words, 1966-86, (University of Illinois Press, 2001) by the photographer Carl Fleishhauer and Neil V. Rosenberg, the noted historian of bluegrass music (and both, I believe, alums, like me, of Oberlin College in Ohio).

In their preface, the two define their subject as "bluegrass music -- or, more accurately, a community bounded not by geography but by its connection to bluegrass music." (Italics mine.)

The chapters of the book, they state, "represent aspects of this community's culture: the music itself, the places where the community may be found, and the relationships among the community members, including relationships of blood and kin." The chapters are titled "Intensity," "Destination," "Transaction," "Community," "Family," and "The Monroe Myth."

New Essex Bluegrass Band, at La Roche festival, 2009. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

This is, to a large extent, what I have been following in Europe in the country/western/bluegrass scene -- the community or "scene" as much as the music. And every time I go to a bluegrass festival in Europe, I bear this book -- and its premise and its images -- in mind. Fleischhauer and Rosenberg were traveling the high, lonesome road decades ago, in the regions where bluegrass music was born, came of age and reached maturity. They report that from one bluegrass festival in the U.S. in 1965, there were more than 700 a decade later. Yet, so many of the images and descriptions still reflect, at least superficially, what I see on the ground in Europe. Just updated a little, fashionwise, and presented in different languages....(The first bluegrass festival in Europe was held in then-Czechoslovakia in 1973; it is still being held today, as the Banjo Jamboree in Caslav, CZ... and there are scores of other festivals in various countries throughout the summer.)

There is a look to the performers, venues and audience that is eerily similar, no matter whether the pictures were taken in Stumptown, West Virginia, or in La Roche, France, or Caslav CZ..."personal interaction," Carl and Neil reported, "[is] at the center of bluegrass music making." Or maybe it's the posture, or expressions on faces.

Jam session at La Roche (in picture are Dutch, American, Hungarian and, in the background, Czech musicians). Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Rosenberg's text is at times a bit academic for my taste, but he records an amazing wealth of details such as the "ritualized nature of performances at festivals," the construction of stages, the look of the crowd, the parking lot jam sessions, even how conversations were carried out.... "Style preferences," he reported, "could be seen in food and drink, dress, camping accommodations and, of course, musical favorites." These, too, are generally reflected in what I've seen in Europe.

Jambalaya at La Roche 2009. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Camping at the Zahrada folk and bluegrass festival, CZ, 2004. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Family bands were another important component of the bluegrass scene as reported in Bluegrass Odyssey... At La Roche, there were various examples of this, too. The British group Toy Hearts, for example, includes Stewart Johnson and his daughters Sophia and Hannah. Also, the Dutch Schut family -- father Dennis and sons Ralph and Chris -- are leading figures in the European scene, veterans of a family band called Spruce Pine who now live in various countries, including France and CZ, and play in various formations. (The American family group 3 Fox Drive performed at La Roche last year, and one of the American groups that performed this year, Carrie Hassler and Hard Rain, has a pair of twin brothers in the band.)

Dennis Schut holding son Patrick, with son Ralph and Angelika Torrie of the European Bluegrass Music Association. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Wrote Neil and Carl: "Family music scenes typically mix levels of skill, taste, ability, and dedication; and as with the families themselves, they're constantly evolving and subdividing. So the family band is often a stage in the lives of family members, a kind of rite of passage. As children grow to adulthood in family bands, some go farther than others in the business."

The Toy Hearts, from the UK, at La Roche. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

(To be continued.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

France -- Media on the French Country Festivals

At the Country Rendez-vous in Craponne, 2008. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

I was sorry that I could not make it this year to the great Country Rendez-vous festival at Craponne in south-central France, where I had had such a wonderful time last year and the year before. I posted some items about last year's festival on this blog, including a photo slide show. Last year's scene looked pretty much as it did in 2007, when I wrote an article for the International Herald Tribune on Craponne and some of the other more than 50 country music festivals around France each year. So I suppose is was much the same this year, too!

Last week the New York Times ran a piece about another big French country festival -- that at Mirande, in the southwest. It reads remarkably similar to my piece about Craponne the year before. In a way, Mirande and the Country Rendez-vous are sort of rivals -- Mirande draws more people (estimates go as high as 150,000 or more) but Craponne is considered the most prestigious, partly because almost all the acts at Craponne are American. This year's headliners were the Texas-based group The Flatlanders, featuring Joe Ely -- who performed solo at Craponne two years ago.

Joe Ely on the screen next to the stage, Craponne 2007. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

This year, Le Monde discovered the Country Rendez-vous, with a long article by Stephane Davet who notes how the festival compound -- a Wild Western Space par excellence -- resembles a theme park, and how the line dance craze has has an impact.

05 août 2009

Les Flatlanders se posent en Auvergne (Le Monde)

Avec son saloon, son bureau du shérif, son mur d'enceinte digne de Fort Alamo, l'entrée du festival Country Rendez-vous ressemble à celle d'un parc à thème. Tels de grands enfants, souvent costumés en cow-boy, ils sont près de 8 000 spectateurs à envahir chaque soir, du 24 au 26 juillet, le terrain en pente douce qui surplombe la petite ville de Craponne-sur-Arzon. A l'horizon, le relief couvert de sapins pourrait évoquer les Appalaches, mais à gauche de la scène s'étendent les monts du Forez, à sa droite les monts du Velay. C'est en Auvergne que se déroule l'un des deux plus grands rassemblements de musique country de l'Hexagone.

Longtemps, on a imaginé les Français réfractaires à ces chansons de l'Amérique profonde. Pourtant, il existerait aujourd'hui près d'une soixantaine de festivals country au pays de Brassens. "Nous avons commencé en 1988, devant 200 spectateurs, se souvient Georges Carrier, le président du Country rendez-vous. L'an dernier, nous avons dépassé les 25 000 entrées."
La convivialité d'un événement organisé par des bénévoles, son environnement campagnard, une programmation artistique fière de sa diversité et de ses exclusivités expliquent sans doute ce succès. Tous les styles ont droit de cité : Bluegrass, honky tonk, western swing, new country, country rock...

Le succès du Rendez-vous correspond aussi à la popularité exponentielle du phénomène "line dance". Au milieu d'un public souvent assis sur des chaises pliantes, deux parquets ont été installés, face à la scène. Dans des tenues plus pittoresques que celles de la plupart des musiciens, près de 200 danseurs se sont alignés et synchronisent leur chorégraphie pendant les concerts.

Relancées aux Etats-Unis au début des années 1990 par le chanteur Billy Ray Cyrus, ces danses en ligne (aujourd'hui passées de mode en Amérique), ont commencé à prendre en France, il y a une dizaine d'années. On y compterait plus de 500 clubs spécialisés.

Stetson noir et santiags

"Ce qui m'a plu, explique Véronique, pimpante quinqua, en Stetson noir, jeans à franges et santiags, c'est la convivialité, le côté physique de l'exercice, la possibilité de danser sans cavalier et l'impression de se retrouver aux Etats-Unis sans avoir à payer le voyage."
Pour ces danseurs, qui ont souvent dépassé la quarantaine, les festivals sont aussi l'occasion de faire des emplettes sur les multiples stands de vêtements, chapeaux, bijoux, bottes, qui voyagent au gré de ces événements.

A Craponne, la programmation essaie aussi de limiter la puérilité du pittoresque. Vendredi 24 juillet, le plus beau concert de la soirée d'ouverture n'était pas le plus dansant. Originaires de Lubbock, Texas, la ville natale de Buddy Holly, les trois fondateurs des Flatlanders - Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore et Butch Hancock - ont grandi artistiquement à Austin, cité refuge pour les musiciens allergiques au conformisme de Nashville.

Après un premier essai commun infructueux en 1972 (avec un album magnifique qui ressortira, en 1990, sous le titre parlant de More a Legend Than a Band), les membres du trio se sont taillé de belles carrières solos - Ely, en country rocker côtoyant Springsteen et les Clash ; Gilmore, en ténor métaphysique disciple de Roy Orbison ; Hancock en conteur métaphorique - avant de retrouver, par épisode, l'alchimie des Flatlanders.

A 60 ans passés, chacun maîtrise son art avec un sens infini de l'épure, de la mélodie et de la narration. Morceaux anciens ou issus d'un nouvel album, Hills and Valleys, leur concert rayonnait d'une classe qui éclipsait tous les habits de lumière des cow-boy fantaisies.
Country Rendez-vous à Craponne-sur-Arzon. Tél. : 04-71-03-25-52. Le 25 juillet : The Figs, Paul Eason, Jo Dee Messina... ; le 26 : Star of Azlan, Jeff Griffith, The Matt Skinner Band... 35 euros.
Stéphane Davet (Le Monde)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bluegrass -- After La Roche-1

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

It's more than a week since the International Bluegrass Festival in La Roche-sur-Foron, France, and I've only now found a little time to reflect on the experience. I'm prompted to do so by listening to the quite pleasant CD I was given there -- a compilation of bluegrass music called "France Bluegrass 2" played by local French bands. Some 30 bands are represented, with names such as "Nashville Airplane," "Lonesome Day," "Sainte-Foy Family Reunion" and "Bluegrass Deluxe."

The first such compilation came out five years ago, with 21 groups represented. I was told at La Roche that there are about 40 really active bluegrass groups in France today. The heyday of the genre in France was apparently in the '70s and '80s -- according to the CD's web site and thick information booklet, bluegrass was introduced in France in the 1960s thanks to the efforts of the guitarist Marcel Dadi and bano players Jean-Marie Redon and Bill Keith. (Somewhere I have a booklet/magazine by Dominique Fosse put out a few years ago that details 18 years of bluegrass in France.) Some of the early groups -- Bluegrass 43 and the Sainte-Foy Family Reunion -- are still active and included on the CD.

Several French groups on the CD were among the 35 -- count them 35 -- groups that performed during the four days of the La Roche festival. (And I should note that the organizer of the festival, Christopher Howard-Williams, plays in a group represented on the CD called Moonshine.)

There were groups from more than a dozen countries at La Roche -- from Russia to Spain. They played in a variety of styles, from historical re-creation of old recordings (eg the Czech band Sunny Side) to a bluegrass base infused with rock, blues and swing (eg the British band Toy Hearts). Most of the bands were decidedly youthful in their demographic makeup.

A band contest was part of the festival -- and the difference in styles caused consternation among some of the judges. "Bluegrass content" was one of the scoring criteria, and some of the judges refused to acknowledge anything but the strictly traditional.

The Czech band Kreni, which won first prize at the La Roche bluegrass festival. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Once again, the Czechs (and Slovaks...) proved themselves to be at the epicenter of all the styles. The young Czech group Kreni won first prize, with its virtuoso playing, singing and original songs and instrumentals. "They represent the future," said "Big Herbert," a German promoter (and fan and afficionado) who was on the jury.

Big Herbert, with Lilly Pavlak to his right. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

The second prize went to a band with a totally different demographic (ie, older) and sound -- highly traditional. The New Essex Bluegrass Band from England. The traditional sound and style is studied and deliberate -- as the band's web site puts it:

Since 1994, the New Essex Bluegrass Band has enjoyed over twelve years as perhaps the most traditional sounding of all the UK bluegrass bands.

The material comes from the repertoires of the early bluegrass bands, Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Stanley Brothers, Reno & Smiley, and Jim & Jesse, as well as more modern bands who have created fresh new work in the same tradition. Banjo, mandolin and fiddle drive the faster songs, and provide subtle back-up to the authentic duet and trio vocal harmonies of the slower songs.

From the outset the band adopted the single microphone as the most appropriate form of stage sound, and have inspired many of the other British bands to do the same.

The New Essex Bluegrass Band plays in La Roche town hall for the Mayor. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

The third place was a tie -- between the Czech Bill Monroe clones Sunny Side (which gives a great show hewing note by note to the old music) and the Slovak/Czech group Blueland, with a more modern sound featuring original material.

Sunny Side. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

(to be continued)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hungary -- Tamas Cseh RIP

An encampment of Hungary's Bakony Indians. Photo from Tamas Cseh web site.

The Hungarian singer-songwriter Tamas Cseh, an important figure in Europe's Imaginary Wild West, died on Friday after a long battle with lung cancer at the age of 66. Cseh was a founder and driving force within a group known as the Bakonyi Indians -- a group of Hungarians who, since the early 1960s, have spent holiday time living like Native Americans in the hilly Bakony region of northwestern Hungary. The group (which still exists) takes part in an elaborate warrior game, in addition to learning and carrying out Native American crafts and traditions. Cseh also published a novel, Hadiösvény (Warpath), in 1997, and a book containing Native American tales, Csillagokkal táncoló Kojot (Coyote Dancing with Stars), in 2006.

Bakonyi Indians -- picture from Tamas Cseh web site.

Here is a YouTube video of Cseh singing an American Indian chant.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Bluegrass -- La Roche Festival Off to a Good Start

Perfect weather and high-quality bands have got the International Bluegrass Festival in La Roche sur Foron, France, off to a great start.

Some 35 bands from more than a dozen countries are playing -- and all the concerts are free.

I drove up from Italy on Thursday, arriving at La Roche after midnight. I made my way to the school at the edge of town where a lot of the participating bands and other people connected with the festival are staying... there were jam sessions going on in the hallways and in the dark grounds of the building; very nice to hear the music floating across the blackness.

Yesterday, as last year, various bands performed informal lunchtime sets outside cafes in the town; the festival proper began last night.

There were a number of highlights -- the English group Toy Hearts (which includes two sisters and their father), and the American band Carrie Hassler and Hard Rain (notable for the amazing virtuousity (and youth!) of its members -- the banjo player is only 17!) played particularly strong sets. I was also pleased to hear the Hungarian group Acouticure, one of the very few bluegrass groups from Hungary.

There's the usual mix of stands set up around the perimeter of the festival site (a parking lot that's part of a school complex), selling western, country music and motorcycle themed T-shirts and other junk -- I mean stuff. This year there seem to be fewer rebel flags on show than last year! There's also a big CD and vinyl market in a huge roofed square in town.

The first night drew a crowd of thousands (or so it seemed). It was a pretty identical set-up from last year -- including the food....highlight was rotisserie barbecued ham, served over pommes frites. The volunteers who staffed the kitchen did a heroic job.... Today I sampled the Jambalaya.

More later (with pictures).