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Cosmopolitan
Directed by Nisha Ganatra
Written by Akhil Sharma
(short story)
Sabrina Dhawan (screenplay)
Starring Roshan Seth
Carol Kane
Madhur Jaffrey
Production
company
Gigantic Pictures
Distributed by Gigantic Pictures
PBS
ITVS
KTEH
Release date
2003 (theatrical)
2004 (television)
Running time
55 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Hindi

Cosmopolitan is a 2003 American film starring Roshan Seth and Carol Kane, and directed by Nisha Ganatra. The film, based on an acclaimed short story by Akhil Sharma, is a cross-cultural romance between a confused and lonely middle-aged East Indian, who has lived in America for 20 years, and his annoying, eccentric, ditzy blonde neighbor.

Cosmopolitan was televised nationally on PBS in 2004. It was selected as one of 10 American PBS programs screened at INPUT 2005, an international conference on the best in public television, and was the only narrative film to have that distinction.[1]

Plot[edit]

In an American suburb in Northern New Jersey, conservative, middle-aged Indian immigrant Gopal, a telephone-company engineer who has taken early retirement, has just finished celebrating Diwali in mid-autumn with his wife and grown daughter. His daughter suddenly tells him that she is leaving indefinitely to teach English in Mongolia with her German boyfriend. As Gopal recovers from his shock and tries to talk her out of it, largely on the grounds that she will be living in sin in his eyes, his wife Madhu announces that she is leaving him as well, and is taking up the spiritual life in an ashram in India.

Confused, mortified, bored, and directionless, Gopal lies to his few Indian-American acquaintances about the situation, and refuses to answer his daughter's phone calls from Mongolia. He tries to cope with his emptiness by redecorating slightly, searching through the various corners of his small house, reading newspapers, and watching videos of Bollywood films. Desperately lonely, he latches upon a copy of Cosmopolitan magazine that had belonged to his daughter, and takes a quiz gauging a man's suitability for a relationship — which reveals that he is a "Ditchable Dude."

In the midst of his distress and his Bollywood fantasies, Gopal's eccentric neighbor, the oddly attractive divorcée Mrs. Shaw — whom he had previously thought of as loose-moraled (because of her one-night stands) and slovenly — appears at his door asking to borrow one of his rakes. This sets off a whole new set of fantasies on his part. A few nights later Gopal sees her on her porch nursing a drink, and after a tentative conversation, asks her to have Thanksgiving dinner with him at home the next day. While cleaning and straightening for the date, Gopal finds several more of his daughter's Cosmopolitans, and reads several articles on "What women want" from a man — evidently it is for them to "listen, listen, listen."

With the help of the advice gleaned from the pages of Cosmopolitan, and to some extent in spite of it, Gopal and Mrs. Shaw (Helen) hit it off, and have a warm, tender, intimate relationship. Mrs. Shaw is a high school counselor, and so a good and empathetic listener herself, and Gopal confides in her about his dreams and sorrows.

But the relationship does not go exactly as Gopal had planned. On Christmas day, when Helen gently rebuffs his insistence on his long-term vision for the relationship, Gopal is very upset and shouts at her to leave. He then holes up sullenly and frustrated in his house, refusing all attempts at communication from her, and visibly angry when he sees she has a male visitor the following week.

On New Years Day, Gopal discovers Helen has snuck in a belated Christmas gift for him, and it is something very meaningful to him. He breaks down, and something in him shifts — regarding the relationship, his family, and people in general.

Script[edit]

Akhil Sharma's original short story "Cosmopolitan" initially appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, in January 1997.[2] It was then anthologized and republished in the book The Best American Short Stories 1998,[3] a selection of 20 short stories chosen by Garrison Keillor.

Producers Jen Small, Jason Orans, and Brian Devine found "Cosmopolitan," which they considered "a little gem," in the 1998 anthology, and signed award-winning screenwriter Sabrina Dhawan (Monsoon Wedding) to adapt it for their new production company, Gigantic Pictures. "The rights to short stories are more accessible financially for small companies; and you can add, where a novel demands cutting," says Small.[4]

Of the differences between adapting short stories versus novels, co-producer Jason Orans said, "Short stories are usually structured differently than movies. While a movie should have a three-act structure, a short story is often an exploration of character via a single defining event. The challenge is to create new material which both serves the story and supports a three-act structure. With Cosmopolitan, this meant adding a completely new first act to the story."[5]

Director Nisha Ganatra, whose previous credits included the mulitple-award-winning Chutney Popcorn, was also intrigued by Akhil Sharma's short story. In her words, "I thought, this is a story we haven't seen. Indian American filmmakers are making these stories that are very ‘me, me, me' and the thing that I loved about 'Cosmopolitan' is that it's about our parents and loneliness, and that I found was very universal and exciting."[6]

Cast information[edit]

Distinguished Indian actor Roshan Seth, a 20-year veteran of major American and British films, including lead roles in Gandhi, Mississippi Masala, Not Without My Daughter, My Beautiful Laundrette, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, was chosen for the starring role of Gopal, the suddenly single Indian patriarch.

Two-time Emmy-winning comic actress Carol Kane, familiar to many as Latka's wife Simka on the sitcom Taxi — and noted also for her Oscar-nominated role in Hester Street, and for her roles in Annie Hall, The Princess Bride, and Scrooged — was chosen to play Gopal's unconventional American neighbor, divorcée Mrs. Shaw. "There was no other (casting) choice" for Mrs. Shaw, said co-producer Jen Small, who had previously worked with Kane on the 1998 PBS film The First Seven Years. Director Nisha Ganatra agreed: "We wanted to take advantage of Carol's incredible comic timing, and that way she has of making you laugh and breaking your heart at the same time."[7]

To round out the major cast, Ganatra chose Merchant-Ivory actress Madhur Jaffrey, who had been in her 1999 film Chutney Popcorn, to play Gopal's disgruntled wife.

According to Ganatra, it was interesting watching Roshan Seth's and Carol Kane's conflicting acting styles. "Seth comes from the British school of theater acting and believes that his job is to deliver a consistent performance. Kane comes from the American school, where improvisation rules and a certain performance may not be duplicated. Seth wanted lots of rehearsals; Kane thought too much practice would make her performance stale."[8] Nevertheless, the two actors very much enjoyed working together.[9]

Production[edit]

Funding[edit]

According to co-producer Jason Orans, the production team "fell in love with the story and were determined to make it from the moment we found out the rights were available. However, we were writing grant proposals for over two years before any funding was promised."[10] The team used the immigrant-adrift-in-America theme of the story to garner major funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Diversity Initiative,[11] and from the National Asian American Telecommunications Association.[12] Funding was also obtained from the National Endowment for the Arts.[13]

Filming[edit]

Most of the film was shot in New Jersey in January 2003. The film’s Bollywood dance number on the street was shot in New York City’s Jackson Heights, where colorful Indian-American signage helped make a ready-made outdoor set.[14]

A few shooting locations had to be changed, and often the replacement locations turned out to be more interesting than those originally planned. A scene meant to take place in a large major bookstore could not be achieved, so it was shot in a little sweets shop attached to a restaurant the filmmakers were already shooting in. Co-producer Jason Orans says, "This became one of my favorite shots in the film, very colorful, evocative, and (naturally) sweet."[15]

Major themes[edit]

Release, broadcast, and home media[edit]

Cosmopolitan premiered on opening night of the Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival, November 5, 2003, at Lincoln Center in New York City.[16] It was televised nationally beginning in June 2004 on the PBS series Independent Lens. The film has also had screenings around the country at various film festivals. The DVD of the film is made available by Gigantic Pictures on the film's official website.

Critical reception[edit]

Cosmopolitan was selected as one of 10 American PBS programs screened at INPUT 2005, an international conference on the best in public television. It was the only narrative film to have that distinction.[17]

The film has received very favorable print reviews, and was variously described as charming, wry, touching, and hilarious by Variety, Newsday, Time Out New York, and The Southeast Asian.[18] The Boston Phoenix noted the film's "superb performances."[19] New Beats remarked that screenwriter Dhawan and director Ganatra "capture the sense of suburban desolation in Gopal's world and the vivaciousness of Bollywood in the fantasy sequences. ... [D]epicting love so realistically with a sense of whimsy ... makes [the film] engaging."[20]

The Austin Chronicle wrote, "Director Nisha Ganatra has crafted a frothy yet poignant valentine to first-generation immigrants longing for their home country while forging a new life in their adopted one, and a celebration of the romantic lurking within even the most resigned-to-loneliness heart." And the Herald News called Cosmopolitan a "witty and tender depiction of mature romance."[21]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Category:Film stubs Category:2003 films Category:American films