Last night I went the North American Film Awards, which are essentially the Malayalam IIFAs. So, the IIFAs without any backup dancers or rehearsals, but with a lot of really detailed eloquent speeches and as much applause for the directors as their was for the stars. And in a theater which is about the same size as a high school auditorium, and wasn’t even sold out. But that’s not important, what’s important is I got stuck trying to get out of the parking lot because I was blocked in by NIVIN PAULY!!!!
I’ll just skip to the highlight of the evening. I zipped over to my car as soon as the show was over because I remembered getting stuck in the parking lot after seeing Vishal-Shekhar here. And it worked, the lot wasn’t that crazy. And then I spent 5 minutes getting “Malare” set up on Saavn on my phone to play on repeat while I drove home (because I got to hear it sung live at the show and it gave me a taste for it). And by the time I looked up, poof! Cars EVERYWHERE! Big string of suburban looking SUVs blocking me in. So I start to slowly edge backwards trying to get into the line and I notice this group of people walking behind me, hit the breaks so I don’t hit them. But then they stop and gather around the passenger side of a car behind me. So rude! You don’t have to stop and talk to your friends while I am trying to pull out of my space! But wait, they have their phones out and are talking pictures? What’s up with that? OMG IT’S NIVIN PAULY!!!!! In the car right behind me!!!!
Now, if I were a different person, I would have leaped out and taken a photo too. Or if I were really brave, introduced myself and mentioned this blog. Or if I were slightly crazy/brave, hit the accelerator and backed into his car in order to create a meet cute. But because I am me, I was perfectly happy to just sit in my car and watch him in my rearview mirror for 5 minutes while I waited for traffic to move. IT WAS SO EXCITING!!!!
So, that was the highlight of the evening. I could have arrived, parked, and sat in my car for 6 hours and it still would have been a good night if at the end of it I had pulled out and almost backed into NIVIN PAULY!
But the rest of the night was good too! First, let me back up and try to explain how wonderfully funky this theater is. It’s an old Polish community center, there are murals and statues of famous Polish figures everywhere, and an old fashioned bar in the corner, and a big sweeping Devdas style staircase. And it was completely filled with desis in fancy clothes! Who were getting very very very drunk. I went out to use the bathroom in the middle of the show, the lobby was as full as the theater, and everyone was having a great time.
(there’s busts of Copernicus all around the edges. It’s very funky)
Which brings me to one of the most surprising parts of the evening, towards the end of the show the hosts and some others kept mentioning that this night was so much better than last night, when they had done the same show in New York. Which surprised me, because the Chicago audience is never better! We are all midwestern and restrained and can never figure out how to clap along right or anything. But now I am thinking, maybe the New York venue did not have a bar in the lobby? Because I think that might be key.
It was an odd mixture of dignified and not dignified and an progressively drunker audience worked well for that. We started with the most dignified, Manju Warrior. Who got HUGE cheers. Partly just for herself, I am sure, but also I think because she is in the middle of this whole messy divorce/domestic thing with Dileep and it wasn’t sure if she would be able to get a Visa to come to the show. Maybe I am projecting, but it felt like the cheers were partly because people were happy she was able to come, and partly in support of her side of the messy personal thing.
But she herself was super dignified! Came out in a very classy sari, gave a long dignified speech in Malayalam, received a gift from one of the leaders of the local Malayalam community, and an honorary white scarf thing (what is that called?). And then left.
(this kind of sari, not the chiffony style everyone else wore)
That set the tone for the evening in a lot of ways. Manju was the first celebrity, and everyone did kind of the same thing as she did. Very dignified, graceful speech. And the awards weren’t given by fellow celebrities, but by the president of the Midwest Malayali Association and stuff like that. Oh, also, what is the etiquette the white cotton honorary thing? Because they all received it around their shoulders, and then immediately whipped it off again and passed it over to someone else once the photos were over. Is that insulting or is that just practical? I mean, you don’t want your outfit ruined by having this white shawl thing over it, right?
What I kept thinking about as these celebrities came out and stood on stage was that it was a very Darshan-y kind of event. They weren’t there to entertain us exactly, or really “do” anything, they were just there to stand and wait while we all looked our fill. And they were very very good at that, just standing there waiting while everyone looked at them.
Besides just standing there being looked at, they also spoke. But that was pointless to me because it was all in Malayalam. Which was FASCINATING!!!! At the other shows I’ve been to, a lot of it is in Hindi, but like really bad simple Hindi that even I (or an ABCD who never really learned how to speak it, or someone from outside the Hindi speaking belt who only knows it from movies) could understand. This was clearly very elaborate and sophisticated Malayalam. Including a standup comic who spoke for like 20 minutes to gales of laughter.
Along with the leading figures in the society giving the awards, and ending the evening with the Indian national anthem (never seen that before!), the whole thing felt a lot more connected and specific to this one community than I have ever seen at the other shows I have been to. Oh, and I was definitely absolutely one of only two white people there (I went with moviemavengal). At other concerts there has been a slight chance that there was someone else I just wasn’t seeing, but this time we were for sure the only ones.
Let’s see, what else did I want to say? Oh, with the whole “darshan” vibe, it was great when the people came out who actually liked doing live performances instead of just giving speeches. This awards show, as most awards shows, was clearly designed around “so, who can we get who is willing to come? Okay, now we have to invent awards to give them!” The most important award of the evening was the “Rising Star” award for Neeraj Madhav. Because he was GREAT! Very enthusiastic while getting the award, and then came back later to do a dance for us, extremely energetic, leaped off the stage and danced into the audience, stood on seats to dance with the audience, and pulled Kunchacko Boban up to dance with him too! Oh, and danced to “The Humma Humma” song, so I actually could sing along, which was just a nice little bonus for me.
(It was like this, but with no costumes really and minimal back-up dancers and just on a bare stage with no lights or anything else. And it was still really impressive!)
Oh, and Kunchacko Boban got some kind of award too, and he was also great! He felt the same as the other shows I have seen in that the biggest and most experienced star was also the one who worked the hardest. He got his award, gave an amusing speech (I assume, other people were laughing), then agreed to have one of his songs played and faked playing along on a violin? I assume that it is from a movie where he played a musician? And then, just on his own without the host prompting him, he went over and borrowed the guitar from another musician and played a little something while the audience lost its mind. And throughout the show, all the big stars were in the front row, but he was the only one willing to be pulled back on stage, or stand up and dance when asked, or any of that. And he was the one popping up and down any time someone new arrived in that front row, and leading the standing ovations and all of that. This was very satisfying for me, because that kind of hardworking supportive personality is what I pictured for him based on his willingness to take roles like the husband in How Old Are You? which supported the film as a whole but didn’t necessarily help his own stardom.
Speaking of music, that was fascinating! There were 4 musicians, a keyboard guy, a guitar guy, a violinist guy, and a drummer. And they played some stuff they had clearly practiced in advance, big elaborate things. But what really impressed me was the stuff that they hadn’t practiced. This was the second night (they did this whole thing the night before in New York), and it was a show that we had bought tickets for, so you would think it would have been all worked out and rehearsed. But, nope! People came on stage, were asked to do a song, pulled out their iphones or tablets and pulled up the music, and just told the musicians what they wanted to do. And then the musicians went with it! It was kind of cool to watch, because it wasn’t just the musicians, it was the singers, doing this song off the cuff, and also conducting the music while they did it. Very similar to my experience at Arijit Singh, that he isn’t just a singer, he’s an everything musician.
Speaking of singers, one of the random “let’s invent an award!” people was Vijay Yesudas, a playback singer. Who came out and did a great medley of his hits, after a couple minutes of chatting to the keyboardist to explain what he wanted. That’s why I was sitting in my car looking for “Malare” on my phone because he ended with that and the crowd lost its mind. And also, it sounded really really good live.
(Do you think he is already sick of singing this? Or does he have another few years before the “Tum Hi Ho” effect falls into place for him?)
Let’s see, what else? Tovino Thomas was there. And he is just as distinctive looking live as he is on screen. And also really shy! They introduced him and said we have to applaud really hard because he is shy, and then he came on stage and really did look shy! Barely said a few words and kind of skittered of stage as soon as possible. It was cute.
Nivin was the closer of the evening (of course), and he seemed kind of shy too. Or, not exactly shy, dignified. He came out, he spoke, but he didn’t do a dance or anything like Kunchacko did. He just talked. There was a lot of “sneham” and “santosham”. Thank goodness I know those two words! Thank you Alai Payuthay and Santosham! So I got the jist of all the speeches, everyone loved us and was happy.
In the midst of all these speeches that were basically just “———–love—————-happy” for me, I did have the entertainment of watching all the bored small children. There were about 3 who kept running up to the stage and dancing. One of them eventually ended up on the stage holding hands with Rakhi Sawant (I’ll get to her later) and looking confused. And then up in the balcony with me, there was the constant adrenoline rush of waiting for this one 2 year old to climb over the railing and kill himself. He came close a couple times, but a random audience member grabbed his shirt, and then the second time his big sister stopped him. So instead he just threw stuff over the railing for a bit. That was fun!
I think they kind of knew that the evening dragged at some points. Because in the middle of all less interesting awards, and acoustic song medleys, they made a big deal of when the stars came out from the back to sit in the audience. It must have been semi-scheduled, they could be back their eating dinner and relaxing, and then like an hour or two hours into the show, the host would pause and announce and the star would come out from the wings and wave at us and then go sit down in the front row. They wouldn’t actually do anything at that point, but we could all start watching them sitting there, which added excitement to the rest of the evening.
The big closing excitement was Rakhi Sawant. Of all people! Who could be less in tune with the restrained dignified tone of much of the rest of the evening? But she was super fun. They had mentioned earlier in the evening that she was in the audience and would be dancing, so we were all waiting. And then way at the end, they brought her up on stage and she just kind of danced around. Like, the way you would dance at a club or a party. No fancy moves, no back-up dancers. And she was GREAT! Clearly having a good time on stage, pulled up other people to dance with her (including the confused small child), and danced to music we all knew! Hindi stuff!
Oh, that was really interesting! It was all RD Burman. Except for “Muqabla” at the end and “Badtameez Dil” right at the beginning. But everything else was classic RD. Which goes back to that debate we were having on RD’s birthday post about whether Rahman has matched him yet. Apparently not. If you are looking for music shared between Rakhi Sawant an Kunchacko Boban, RD is the only meeting place. Well, and “Muqabla”. So Rahman has one song as good as all the RD songs.
(Biggest applause of the night)
And then they stood and so did the audience for “Jana Gana”, and then I zipped out to the parking lot and had the THRILL OF A LIFETIME, and then drove home singing along to “Malare”.