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Indian-American film series makes the rounds in September

In another film event related to India, the influential Whitney Museum of American Art here has scheduled a program called ``From India to America: New Directions in Indian-American Film and Video,'' billed as the first show to highlight Indian-American cinema as a distinct body of work.

The series will involve 28 films, including features, documentaries, shorts, and videos. Offerings range from full-length commercial releases to experimental works only a few minutes long. Among the scheduled films are these:

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* ``Salaam Bombay,'' 1988. Directed by Mira Nair, this popular drama focuses on a young boy excluded from his home and left to roam the streets of Bombay, where he has unexpected adventures with new acquaintances. Although the film has been criticized for softening its portrayal of urban hardships, its sensitive story and vivid images have been widely praised.

* ``Mississippi Masala,'' 1992. In her second feature-length movie, Nair explores the life and times of an Indian-American woman with African roots and a current home in Mississippi, where she becomes romantically involved with an African-American man. Sarita Choudhury and Denzel Washington head the strong cast.

* ``In Custody,'' 1993. Ismail Merchant, a partner in Merchant Ivory Productions and the producer of such excellent films as ``Howards End'' and ``The Remains of the Day,'' made his fiction-feature directing debut with this leisurely study of an Indian scholar who sits at the feet of a poet he has long admired, only to learn that his hero is not as lofty a figure as he'd hoped. The slender story is stretched out too long, but the movie is nicely acted and splendidly photographed.

* ``The Courtesans of Bombay,'' 1983. Merchant also directed this semidocumentary look at a self-contained community of musicians and their families trying to sustain their traditional way of life against increasingly difficult odds. An offbeat glimpse of a little-known subject.

Other features on the program are ``An Unremarkable Life,'' made in 1989 by Amin Chaudhri, and ``West Is West,'' a 1988 film by David Rathod.

Among the many additional works are Nair's early documentaries ``India Cabaret,'' ``Boy or Girl?'' and ``So Far From India.'' Merchant's 1972 short ``Mahatma and the Mad Boy'' will also be shown.

The program runs Sept. 21 to Oct. 16 at the Whitney; it will then be shown at the Siri Fort Complex in New Delhi, Nov. 30 to Dec. 4, and the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Bombay, Dec. 7 to 11.

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Like the program of Adoor Gopalakrishnan films at Lincoln Center, the Whitney show has been arranged by L. Somi Roy and Zette Emmons, experts on current developments in non-Western cinema. A brochure containing an essay by Roy will accompany the Whitney exhibition, which is part of the museum's ongoing New American Film and Video Series.

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