“MADE IN NEW JERSEY”
a script by seanie blue written for tina tiki tavi

Shot in High Def on location
In Hollywood and Bollywood
 
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Sara Ruchi asks her father and mother for permission to travel by herself to India. The family is gathered in the living room of a suburban home in New Jersey. Her father and mother are surprised. Why go to India?

But before she answers, her father holds up his hand. He is a gentle man, named Khan Ruchi, dressed in brightly colored Indian clothes.

“Before you speak, daughter, let me just say that if you wish to travel to Bombay, I will not stop you. The members of this family have always supported one another without question. I am just interested in why you want to go.”

And before Sara answers, her mother lifts her chin in protest. Poonam Ruchi is fiery, dressed in a pin-striped suit.

“Wait just a second, my dear. The last time you were in India, you got sick. You were sick every day for two weeks and you vowed never to return. And now you want to go alone? For music business? To Bombay? Will your manager accompany you?”

Sara Ruchi gently but firmly tells her parents to sit down. They sit on the edge of the couch and look at their daughter with different expressions, the father calm, the mother biting her lip. But they are sitting, so Sara stands and smiles before she speaks.

“I have been insulted,” she says.

“What? By whom?”

“A movie producer thinks I play the tabla with my shoes on,” says Sara, “And before anything else happens, I have to go and make this guy understand who I am.”

Sara’s mother Poonam laughs, incredulously. “It costs twelve cents a minute with a phone card and you can yell all you want to without traveling to Bombay!”

Sara’s father pensively asks: “Who issued such an insult?”

Sara sits down and says: “Ajit Amar.”

The parents are shocked anew. Amar is an international name.

KHAN RUCHI

Surely you don’t intend to trade insults with him, do you?

SARA RUCHI

No. I want him to understand who I am.

POONAM RUCHI

When will you go, Sara?

SARA RUCHI

Tomorrow. That’s why I came tonight to ask your permission.

POONAM RUCHI

But you would go without our permission?

SARA RUCHI

I would never go without your permission, but I know you both well enough to know you will give me your permission.

KHAN

That’s true. You have our blessings. But remember he is older than you.

POONAM

Kick his ass, Sara, and if he wrecks your career –-

SARA RUCHI

Medical school.

POONAM

Cool. You have our blessings.

Khan stands up and looks fondly at the two women, his mate and daughter. “Chai?” he asks. Sara nods but Poonam hold up her keys: she has a property to show, so she stands up and hugs and kisses Sara before leaving. As Khan leaves the living room, Sara checks her cell phone; she has 37 new messages.

In the Newark airport the next day, Sara Ruchi paces at the gate to her flight. She is on her cellphone, speaking with her manager Moorti. Her trip to India is a complete shock to him. He wants to go with her. He wants to talk to her at the airport. He wants her to delay for a day. He wants – but Sara is firm, and she repeats the words “no, Moorti” with every sentence. She is traveling alone, yes, and she intends to meet Mr. Amar, yes, she will write a new song during the week she is gone, yes, she will eat carefully and drink only bottled water, yes, yes, yes, but the plane is leaving, and she must go, and, no, Moorti, you cannot come with me. She checks her cellphone one more time: she has 26 new messages, and she shuts off her phone before listening to a single message. She gets on the airplane.

Sara Ruchi arrives in Bombay and walks carefully through the airport. She sees somebody holding a large sign which reads “Sara” but firmly ignores it and keeps walking out into bedlam, into a ferocious competition among the old black cabs. She goes with an older cabbie named Babloo because he asks her “Where is your husband,” to which she replies “I do not have a husband,” to which he replies in turn: “Congratulations.”

She checks in at a $20-a-night hotel, very clean, family run. After washing her hair, and changing her clothes, she lies on her bed and smiles as she realizes her room is just as noisy and vivid as the streets of Bombay.

The next morning, Sara is taken by Babloo to the house of the famous movie producer and ex-matinee star, Ajit Amar. But Amar’s servant politely turns her away and suggests she show up the next day in “proper attire.” Just as the servant says this, a handsome young man wearing jeans strolls into the compound. But not before giving an admiring look to the fetching young woman at the gate. “My name is Joe,” says the young man, “Can I help you?”

SARA RUCHI

If you’re going to see Mr. Amar, you can tell him I’ll come back tomorrow wearing the right clothes.

JOE

What? Ajit wears jeans all the time, Come in with me, I am his nephew, he will be happy to meet you.

SARA RUCHI

No, no, I’ll be back tomorrow. Tell your uncle that I’ll expect to see him in his finest silks.

JOE

Wait, what’s your name?

Sara laughs and waves goodbye as she clambers back into Babloo’s taxi. Joe stands at the gate with his arms spread wide and a look of dramatic disappointment on his face. Sara laughs and shouts out the window: “My name is Babloo,” to the shock of the taxi driver.

BABLOO

These young music stars are very forward. They think they know everything. His name is Joe Sati, and he is the biggest ladies’ man in Bombay. Be careful, Miss!

SARA RUCHI

Listen, Babloo, I need to buy some nice saris. Do you know somebody? Not a man, but a woman who makes the best.

CUT TO:
In the finest silk shop in Bombay, Sara is fitted by a bustling dame in large glasses who carries on a monologue spiced with insults for Ajit Amar: “Who does he think he is? Our young lady travels all the way in an airplane to see him and he acts like the King of England? We will show him! He was the first movie star to wear only European suits, and now he is sneering at your jeans? He thinks he is 500 years old, he is his own religion, I will show him!

CUT TO:
In the office of the music promoter Raji Ram, Sara gently reveals her plans while she is in Bombay. She would like to record a song with local musicians at the best recording studio, but she does not want the Bombay press to know she is in town, absolutely not, despite Ram’s entreaties. Ram is ready to book a tour, to head to Goa and Trivandrum for the tourist seasons, to Delhi, etc., but Sara is firm. She wants just the recording studio and the musicians, and she refuses even when Ram begs her at least to do a small set to open for India’s next big thing, Jaya Poorvi, at an exclusive club. Ram sighs in frustration, agrees to help Sara with the studio, and is then shocked when Sara asks how she can get in touch with Mallika Madhu.


Cut to:
Taxicab with Babloo. He is looking askance at Sara in the rearview mirror. He is genuinely surprised.

BABLOO

Mallika Madhu? But, her career is finished, Miss, excuse me. Finished. She sings every night into her glass of whiskey. She is not to be admired! The finest voice in our country, broken sip by sip!

Cut to:

Sara knocks on the door of a small house in a noisy neighborhood. She stares at the ring of children staring at her. They open their eyes wide, and she opens hers the same way. Tongue stuck out, tongue stuck out, but not a word exchanged. Mallika Madhu opens the door and looks at her guest in surprise.

MALLIKA

Can I help you, dear?

SARA

Yes, Miss Madhu. I want to learn a song.

MALLIKA

(Pause)  Why?

SARA

To sing it.

MALLIKA

(Long pause.)  Okay, come in.

Cut to:
The living room of the Madhu house gives out to an uncovered courtyard where a few plants struggle for survival. A huge, fat cat must be chased from a sofa so the two women can sit down.

MALLIKA

The cat, excuse me, I don’t know where he comes from. He’s not mine, I do not feed him, but look at him. He is a leech, hiding in a hunter’s costume.

Sara sits next to the singer and notes the torn edges of her robe, the tatty slippers, the gentle shabbiness of the house. There is no poverty here, but then nobody has fought the neglect: Madhu lives alone. The older singer wants to know: What song?

SARA

A ghazal called “Too Many Flowers in Persia.”

MALLIKA

Why do you wish to sing this song?

SARA

Because it is beautiful, and I can play the tabla as I sing.

MALLIKA

Oh. Where are you from?

SARA

New Jersey.

MALLIKA

Where will you sing this ghazal?

SARA

I want to record it here, in Bombay.

MALLIKA

When?

SARA

I have booked a studio tomorrow, owned by Raji Ram.

MALLIKA

Tomorrow! Perhaps you can build a new airport by Thursday as well?

SARA

Perhaps. How many runways?

The women look at each other and laugh. Madhu stands up and asks if Sara would like anything to drink, except that she has nothing non-alcoholic. Sara declines with a smile; she has her bottled water.

MALLIKA

You didn’t by any chance bring a Jack Daniels from the airplane, did you? No? Well, never mind, next time. Always bring a gift to a singer, more important than cash. You perform for money, if you are professional, but you sing, you sing your soul, for a gift. Let me get a glass and we shall see if you can sing the song.

Cut to:

Sara Ruchi has her eyes closed and is standing in the sunshine of the courtyard. She is sweating and uncomfortable, as Madhu walks in a circle around her, instructing her note for note. It is Madhu’s philosophy that a song is learned best in the worst circumstance, in the dust, the heat, because the day will come in performance when conditions will not be best, and if you fail then, the song will never have confidence in you and will never be comfortable being sung by you again. Do you understand? Yes, says Sara. Madhu sips her whiskey and nods her head and says simply, “Again.”

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The next day, Sara goes to Raji Ram’s studios and meets the musicians who will play tambour and sitar and other percussion on the song “Too Many Flowers in Persia.” The musicians thank her for her patronage. She interrupts them: I will pay you double if you perform the song better than you think you can. The musicians are a little shocked. Who does this girl think she is? But double pay is nothing to sneer at. They set to work, but not before Sara notices a drum kit in the next studio, and a friendly group of westerners filing out of their own session. The foreign musicians smile at Sara as they leave, and she waves back, but she is concentrating on the ghazal, on the strings, and she busily starts to set the arrangements to the local musicians’ growing surprise. She kicks off her shoes and sits in front of a tabla herself, “Okay, let’s go.” Raji Ram, watching from a mixing booth, smiles and starts to dial a number on his cellphone.

Cut to:
In the lobby of Ram’s offices, Sara meets Rick and Dave of the Power Seeds, a rock and roll group from Wisconsin. She is as astonished to meet them as they are to meet her. They have been flown in for a wedding, as Rick explains, “Throwback Maharaji kind of thing, a bar mitzvah for the godson of a general. Hey, it’s five grand and better than another bus ride in Germany. But what are you doing here?” Sara explains that she has come to record a song, a traditional ghazal, but that she would love to make a westernized version of the same song, right here in Bombay, and she wonders if the band is interested. Rick and Dave laugh incredulously.

RICK

Dude, I read about you signing with Neptune Records and how you were going to do a goth Black Sabbath Hindi song, it would be an honor to do something with you.

SARA

I can pay you guys.

RICK

Don’t worry about that, man –-

DAVE

How much, Sara?

SARA

Same thing I’m paying the tambour and sitar guys, forty bucks a day.

DAVE

Cool.

RICK

(Pause, then to Dave:)  What’s wrong with you, Dude? Think outside the box. This chick is on her way up and you and me are so flat we should call ourselves Lost in Nebraska. You don’t ask her for money. Wake up, man.

SARA

Rick, it’s cool. Time is time, I have a little money. I’m the producer, and the producer always pays.

DAVE

Cool, you’re cool. I’m in. Forty bucks a day.

The three shake hands and Sara leaves the studio.

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Ajit Amar will not smile. His guest sits impeccably dressed in a loveseat in his living room. He pretends nonchalance, and does not notice as Sara slowly sticks her feet out from under her Sari to reveal a pair of glittery shoes.

AJIT

My nephew Joe says you are recording a song at Raji Ram’s.

SARA

Excuse me, Mr. Amar, but how does he know?

AJIT

You can say yes, or you can say no, and that would be more respectful, don’t you think?

SARA

Yes, I am recording two songs at Ram’s studio.

AJIT

Why not record in America?

SARA

I am singing a ghazal.

AJIT

Really? Which one?

SARA

“Too Many Flowers in Persia.”

AJIT

Really? Can you sing it properly?

SARA

Not yet. I’m learning. But I will also play tabla.

AJIT

Oh, you know how to play the tabla?

SARA

A little bit, yes.

AJIT

And this will be a big hit in America, this ghazal you are learning with the tabla you are learning?

SARA

The tabla, I know, Mister Amar. The ghazal, I will know very soon. Would you like to come to the studio to see us record?

AJIT

Good God, why would I do that?

SARA

Perhaps you would find it amusing.

Ajit nods his head with great exaggeration. Now he knows the purpose of this visit by Ruchi. He looks at her feet, at the glittery gold shoes, and he smiles.

AJIT

Amusing? You are quoting me from that press conference. You know before we go further, I should tell you that I have noticed how you are putting your feet on view. Little bit by little bit, inch by inch, your feet creep forward. You want me to see your shoes, these gold fashion jewels on your feet. Are they Italian?

SARA

Oh no, I bought them here in Bombay.

AJIT

Really? They came with that sari?

SARA

No, the shoes I bought here yesterday when your servant told me I should come back properly dressed. The sari, I got this in a second-hand thrift shop in Jersey.

AJIT

Ha ha, you are very funny, and very ckever. A comedienne, and a cobra.

SARA

Thank you for the compliment, Mr. Amar, but really I see myself as the mongoose.

AJIT

And you have caught me. I said some terrible things in the press about you and the tabla and your shoes, and now I wonder why you have come to my house, to prove that you are not the silly marketing scheme from Hollywood which you appear to be?

SARA

No, actually. I have come for an apology.

AJIT

What?

SARA

I would like you to see me play the tabla, without my shoes on, the way the tabla is meant to be played, and I would like you to hear me sing the very same ghazal song you used to sing thirty years ago, and then I would like it if you held another small press conference and said that you were quite wrong to say that I was a Hollywood babe who plays the tabla with her shoes on and ---

AJIT

“And has no respect for the traditions of Indian music.” Yes, yes, I said these things. But what do you expect? Sara Ruchi signs a contract for a million dollars and you are supposed to be the next big thing not in New Jersey but here, in Bombay, where I live and work, and this is ridiculous. You are ripping us off. You and your managers and your labels. This is our music, and it is too sophisticated for an audience that needs it to come packaged with boobs and bellybuttons, and now you want me to apologize to you for defending my traditions, my industry, my people?

SARA

Then I have come for your permission to do these songs, to do them the way I want to, the way a new audience wants them to be done.

AJIT

You have my permission! Become the next Madonna of Madras!

SARA

But . . . I still need your apology.

AJIT

What?

A long silence follows, but Sara coolly stares down the movie producer. He is irritated, obviously, but this conversation is also the most interesting thing that has happened to him in years. And there is the possibility that this steely young woman might possess a talent to match her desire, and the producer within is helpless before such a possibility.

AJIT

I tell you what, Sara. I will retract my apology, I will swallow in public my unfair words, if you are as good as you say. But if you are lacking, if you are a fake concoction out of Manhattan and Los Angeles then I reserve the right to say so, loudly, in front of the cameras and the radios and the scribblers whose words will scream in headlines on the sidewalks of every town in this great country that our musical heritage is being stolen by a tramp in blue jeans and bangles who thinks one plays the tabla wearing dirty shoes!

Pause.

SARA

If I’m no good, you can say what you like. I cannot censor you. But . . . .

AJIT

What, but? But what?

SARA

You still have to apologize for what you said about me before you knew who I was or what I could do.

Pause.

AJIT

But I have apologized.

SARA

No, you have not.

AJIT

Are you sure?

Pause.

AJIT

Well . . . I apologize. (Pause)  I apologize. See? That was easy.

He seems surprised at himself. Sara Ruchi stands up and extends her had as she gathers her things.

AJIT

Where are you going?

SARA

To work. I must learn the song.

AJIT

But, I can help you learn that song, I own that song, I brought it to the public!

SARA

I have a teacher –-

AJIT

My dear girl, don’t let Raji Ram and his troubadours teach you how to be a parrot. Learn the song from an eagle!

SARA

My songbird is Mallika Madhu.

Ajit Amar is stunned. He has entered the trap quite willingly. But the spear striking deeply is unexpected. He is speechless. Sara slips away, smiling. He watches her get in her taxi. Amar has a glass of whiskey in his hand, but a sober expression on his face.

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The rest of the story is yet to come, but follows these general plotlines:

Joe Sati, the handsome singer and actor who is Amar’s nephew, comes to the Ram studio the next day, as a spy for his uncle. He sees Sara working on the arrangements of the traditional ghazal song, but then he sees her join the American rock and roll quartet The Power Seeds in the studio to record a different version of the same song. He reports to his uncle, but he is also smitten by the girl.

Mallika Madhu is astonished at how well her charge learns the ghazal. She laughs at the reports of Amar’s interest in the project. Thirty years before, she was Amar’s protégé, even linked romantically to the actor and star, but it has been two decades since they talked. Their feud is well known but mistakenly chronicled: the press blames Amar for destroying his songbird because she was better than him, but she admits to Sara that her undoing was not her producer or co-star but herself. The whiskey is simply a weapon, and her own hand is guilty in her demise, but she is happy, a little ill, perhaps, but happy, with nothing to prove. Madhu sings every day, and likes the sound of her own voice, and this is a rarity, she says, for any musician.

Raji Ram insists that Sara Ruchi open for a chic show in Bombay, and Sara agrees as long as she can have her surprise guests: The Power Seeds and Mallika Madhu. Ram is astounded by his good luck; Madhu has not performed in thirty years, and the Power Seeds are a well known alternative band from America. The night will be packed with the sons and daughters of Bombay’s most powerful industry leaders.

In small snippets of scenes set in the studio of Raji Ram and the house of Mallika Madhu, the movie unveils not just the power and poetry of eastern and western music, but the process in which the poetry is given life by rhythm. Just small pieces of the songs are more articulated as the story of Sara in Bombay progresses to its finale. By the time the songs are more fully revealed, the audience is completely familiar with both tunes, and can sing along in anticipation, finding the songs at once adventurous and familiar, that combination vital to any hit song.

On the night of the music performances, Sara Ruchi wows the crowd by performing a heavy metal-like rendition of “Too Many Flowers in Persia” while she plays the drumkit accompanied by the Power Seeds. Then she takes center stage and introduces the mystery guest, Mallika Madhu, who shyly emerges to the shock of the audience, who suspected but had not expected to actually see her on stage. But Madhu is tipsy, or drunk, though her condition is invisible to the crowd. Sara Ruchi is surprised, and tries to get Madhu to sing, to no avail. Smiling sweetly, Madhu simply cannot bring the words to her lips. The performance comes to an embarrassing stop. Suddenly, Ajit Amar bounds from the shadows and takes the microphone from Sara and tries to get Madhu to sing. His efforts also fail. He desperately begins singing the song alone, imploring Madhu to join him, but she simply moves a little further offstage. Still smiling, still happy. And just when Amar realizes his old songmate will never sing again, Sara Ruchi begins to sing the part herself. The song builds itself from its shattered start and turns into a lovely and powerful performance by Sara Ruchi, as the ghazal makes its own demands from the people both singing and listening, and the movie ends as the song ends, and not one frame later.

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Note:
AJIT AMAR a music producer in Bombay
Ajit means unconquerable, amar means forever
Mallika Madhu, ex-singer alcoholic also in Bombay (queen, honey)
Sara Ruchi, a singer aon the cusp of stardom
Sara’s real name is sarasvati (goddess of knowledge) and not saravati (river) sarala (simple), sarasa (swan) or sarika (parrot)
And Ruchi means taste

Jaya Poorvi, Indian singer (victory, classical melody)
Khan Ruchi, Sara’s father, professor
Poonam Ruchi, Sara’s mother, real estate agent (taste of moon)