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Indian Summer festival at SFU Woodward's boasts diverse line-up

- Indian Summer, an international festival of Indian arts and ideas, July 7-17 at SFU Woodward's. Box office: 604-873-3311. To view the full schedule, visit ANOSH Irani couldn't believe what he was hearing. In Toronto, Ont.

- Indian Summer, an international festival of Indian arts and ideas, July 7-17 at SFU Woodward's. Box office: 604-873-3311. To view the full schedule, visit

ANOSH Irani couldn't believe what he was hearing.

In Toronto, Ont., recently for auditions for his play My Granny the Goldfish, as well as to take in the International Indian Film Academy Awards, the North Vancouver writer's cab driver surprised him with his knowledge of Indian cinema.

"The cab driver was Nigerian and we were talking and he seemed to know all the Bollywood stars - the old timers as well," says Irani. "Apparently in Nigeria, they used to watch a lot of Indian films. . . . It's really interesting to see how these movies have travelled all over the world."

With 2011 proclaimed the Year of India in Canada, a variety of events intended to celebrate India's cultural richness, which is continuing to make waves internationally, are being presented across the country. Vancouver is among the cities playing host and Indian Summer, a 10-day international festival of Indian arts and ideas based at SFU Woodward's, kicked off yesterday.

"We are the major celebrations here in Vancouver and we are working in partnership with the Consulate General of India (Vancouver)," says artistic director Sirish Rao. An instructor at Simon Fraser University, Rao has a background in publishing and is the author of 20 books.

Both Consul General Ashok Das and Shashishekhar Gavai, High Commissioner for India, Ottawa, were in attendance at yesterday's opening gala, which was co-hosted by Das.

The inaugural festival boasts a diverse line-up of music, film, literary, dance, food, and yoga and ayurveda events. Irani is among the featured authors, set to appear twice: July 14 with Hari Kunzru at 6 p.m. at SFU Woodward's; and July 16 at 4 p.m. at Defining Diaspora at SFU Woodward's.

Indian Summer is the brainchild of Rao and his wife Laura Byspalko, the festival's managing director, through the Vancouver-based non-profit Indian Summer Arts Society. Byspalko, an Ontario native, and Rao, born in Bangalore, split their time between Vancouver, and Mysore, India.

"We really wanted to increase the cultural traffic and share each other's culture with society at large," says Rao.

Helping them bring Indian Summer into fruition is partner SFU Woodward's and


Bollywood actress Tabu stars in director Ang Lee's upcoming adaptation of Canadian author Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi. She will appear onstage tonight with the Canadian author at SFU Woodward's as part of the Indian Summer festival. The two will talk about their work, and the process of bringing literature to life on screen. - John Goodman

North Shore News: Which films are you most proud of? Which film would you recommend to someone who was being introduced to your work for the first time?

Tabu: Box office success was definitely not my criteria for choosing my films. I went with my understanding of the reasons why I was choosing them. The story, yes. The role of my character in the film and if the journey of playing this character would be interesting for me and the fact that I would or wouldn't enjoy the process of making the movie. I think sub-consciously these were the factors.

I'm happy to have done films like Maqbool, Namesake... which appealed to a wider audience globally. Life of Pi was always going to be a special experience just by being the project it is.

North Shore News: How was it making Life of Pi with Ang Lee? Tabu: It's fantastic to be working with Ang Lee, who I think is one of the most important filmmakers today. And we have a great team of technicians working on it. With a big studio backing it with such passion, I'm totally looking forward to this. It's been a great experience!

Teamwork Productions. India-based, Teamwork produces the Jaipur Literature Festival, which Rao and Byspalko are strong supporters of. "It's quite amazing in its growth," says Rao. Last year, the festival featured 250 authors, including Nobel, Pulitzer and Booker prize winners, and saw 65,000 people attend.

"One really big thrill is to have something that's collaborative and to have so many partners," says Rao. "That's just the beauty of this field of work is that you meet so many interesting and creative people. . . . When we began, we didn't really know what the scope or how much interest there would be, but we've been overwhelmed by everyone's response and it's actually become this 10-day festival with so much diversity in it."

Vancouver, which is currently celebrating its 125th anniversary, seemed like the perfect city to host Indian Summer.

"When you look at India both culturally and in every other way the thing that strikes you most about it is that it's ridiculously and vastly diverse. And when you look at the makeup of Vancouver as well, you get the same feeling," says Rao.

Indian Summer's program was designed to be broad to reach a variety of audience members.

"For us, it's very important as a festival that there is interaction between the audience as well. It's not just coming to listen to someone or watch a performance, it's very important the audience engages with each other in conversation and dialogue and that's to me what the spirit of the festival is about," says Rao.

Examples of events include a sold-out evening with of Vij's chef Vikram Vij July 13, two days of programming focused on well-being July 9 and 10, a Literary Tea Service by The Urban Tea Merchant July 17 and free Bollywood dance classes with Shiamak Davar's dance team.

"The whole literature series is full of great minds from India and Canada," says Rao. "These are public intellectuals and writers who are meeting, very often, for the first time and have so much to share."

Irani jumped at the chance to appear at the festival. He met Rao at the Vancouver International Writers Festival through its artistic director Hal Wake, who introduced them.

"It was just exciting, the fact that (Rao's) bringing in writers from India and from other parts of the world as well. I definitely wanted to be part of this. It's going to be a good lineup," says Irani.

Irani, who moved from India to Canada in 1998 to pursue a career as a writer, is an acclaimed author, having penned The Song of Kahunsha and last year's Dahanu Road. He's also a playwright; his anthology The Bombay Plays: The Matka King and Bombay Black was nominated for a Governor General's Award for Drama. As well, he premiered his play My Granny the Goldfish in spring 2010 at Vancouver's Arts Club Theatre Company. Irani was in Toronto in recent weeks as the city's Factory Theatre will be remounting the work in March 2012.

"I'm thrilled that I'm going to get a Toronto production. That's always exciting," says Irani.

Prior to Toronto, Irani was in New York, as he's currently working on a screenplay for a feature to be directed by resident Irena Salina (Flow).

"It's a story that's set in India," says Irani. "The director approached me, it was her story idea. It's my first screenplay so it's quite a challenge and I'm learning as I go along. It's exciting."

Another writer featured at Indian Summer is Yann Martel. He's set to appear tonight at 7: 30 p.m. in conversation with Indian actress Tabu, who stars in the upcoming film adaptation of his critically acclaimed novel Life of Pi, directed by Ang Lee.

"Tabu is a very well-known Bollywood actress who has been in more than 70 films in Indian cinema," says Rao. "She has been in mainstream Bollywood films, she's been in art house cinema. She's also acted in international productions. . . . She really represents a very broad view of Indian cinema. We just thought it would be perfect to have Yann and Tabu meet, they've never met before . . . and to see what they have to say to each another about how a story moves from the page to the screen."

Another featured artist Rao is excited to welcome is violinist Dr. L Subramaniam, who's collaborated with the likes of George Harrison and the New York Philharmonic.

"We're really bringing the top talent of India here and so we think that (Indian Summer) should appeal to anybody who loves good art," he says.