Monday, October 17, 2011
When Walid Amani showed up for the casting call, he had no idea what was just over the horizon for the aspiring actor who was in possession of the prized SAG card. He had roles in a couple of independent movies, episodes of NCIS and Lie to Me. But this one would be very different. Here in Hollywood, he is a long way from the University of Minnesota where he earned a degree in computer science. He’s a trained classical pianist. But when the film’s director and producer agreed with the casting agent saw the test outtakes, Walid would be on his way to India. He was perfect for the part.
In his former life, he was a natural at the computer. He can figure things out. His piano concerts were inspiring. But acting trumped those other career tracks. He attacked the craft with the same intensity and focus he brought to those two familiar keyboards. This role would demand more than he imagined. He’s conversant in several languages, including Hindi. He consulted dialect and linguistic coaches, here in California and there in India. He would play the role of a Dalit man committed to provide and care for an eight-year-old daughter. His native tongue would be Telegu, and he would speak limited English with a heavy Indian accent. He would familiarize himself with life in the outcast slum.
So he did his homework. He practiced until he found a character voice. And then they introduced him to an eight-year old girl with jet-black hair, big bright eyes and an engaging smile. Persis Karen, a Dalit, was picked from a large collection of uniformed students who had been snatched from sure hopelessness in neighboring slums. These girls were engaged in a formal, intense education, which included English, in the heart of India. They were eager cadidates. When the director of the movie first met young Persis, he knew he had found Annika. She would be Walid’s daughter. He would take the name Kiran. They would spend the next six weeks together, inseparable.
As I sat in the theater in Nashville after the focus group screening of the film in which Walid and Persis play a major role as Kiran and Annika, I listened in as folks who had little background in the world of India’s Dalit population shared their response to the film. They expressed wonder and amazement at the performances, which touched them deeply. Kiran, hopeless, lost, with no means of providing for the daughter he loves, accepts a modest sum of money (rupees) in exchange for the promise of a better life for his little girl. His new American friend, Caden (Cody Longo), is outraged. The ugly American becomes a man with possessed by a cause. The two of them emerge as unlikely partners in a search and rescue mission that takes us into some of India’s darker shadows.
Last night, we met four of the actors who played major roles in the new film, Not Today. Brent Martz (Producer) and Jon Van Dyke (Director) interviewed them, as they played finished extended scenes. They reminisced over six weeks of filming on location in India, where their lives were forever changed. All of them.
The focus group in Nashville raved over the performance of Cody Longo, who plays a privileged Orange County millennial, Caden Welles, who on a sort of dare, goes to India for no other reason than to party with his college pals. They are the quintessential ugly Americans. He leaves behind a girlfriend, Audrey (Cassie Scerbo), who loves him but fears what he is becoming. She’s in turmoil. Caden’s mother, Sarah (Shari Widmann), divorced from Caden’s father and remarried to Luke (Jon Schneider), knows Caden’s inner strife, and wants desperately for him to find wholeness. The unexpected quest to find Annika changes everything. They all delivered. Their performances rock. Brent and Jon captured it on film – a stunning achievement.
I’ve always liked DVDs because they include “The Making Of,” which takes us into the background of the story, the on location shooting, a discussion of the film’s purpose and meaning. Last night, we enjoyed the Making Of Not Today live and in person.
We now have a growing sense of confidence and anticipation that this film is going to reach a large audience, bring awareness and motivation, which, we trust, will mobilize an army.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011