“This never could have happened ten years ago,” Amrit Singh, the affable Stereogum blogger and director of the short documentary Dosa Hunt, explained to an audience Monday at Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg. “If you had told fifteen-year-old me that one day there would be guys in these great bands that looked like me, I never would have forgiven myself for not making this project.” The guys that look like him—Ashok “Dapwell” Kondabolu and Hima Suri of Das Racist, Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend, Yeasayer’s Anand Wilder (“the pretty one”), jazz pianist Vijay Iyer, and Alan Palomo of Neon Indian—filled a Dodge Sprinter for the one-day food excursion that had less to do with dosas and more to do with the sort of existential humor of being a first-generation American artist.
Even with a cuisine as eclectic as dosa—an Indian crepe-like pancake stuffed with potatoes and chilis, served with chutney sauce—I still think of Lewis Lapham’s word on this stuff: “The pleasures of the table [are] those to be found in the company and the conversation rather than in whatever [is] the sun-dried specialty on the plate.” For however gastronomically educational the movie is, the interesting parts all center around the opinions and attitudes slung about in the van. Slumdog Millionaire sucked (“I’m biologically opposed to it,” quipped Kondabolu). The dosa rating system relies on “an alternate universe” wherein Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal doesn’t support bigoted, reactionary policies. Bollywood is embraced as camp. On every socio-political topic, the confident, progressive verdict is followed with a shrug of measured apathy. Bobby Jindal is just a guy. Slumdog is just a movie.
Singh contends, justifiably so, that “the film wasn’t just a vanity project,” but there’s certainly the mark of a fanboy filmmaker not yet jaded by the Merchants of Cool-hood of pop music. The scoring is fantastic—you could watch Yeasayer-laced footage of the Queensboro Bridge all day long. And the music itself, from the tribal beats of “Madder Red” to the Afro-pop tinge of V.W.’s “Giving Up The Gun”, is rife with the political multiculturalism/we-like-what-we-like kind of sentiment that informs most of today’s best popular art. Heritage and ethnicity are points of pride, but you can also say, write, wear, or play whatever you want.
In perhaps the best scene of the movie, Heems of Das Racist (“Well who’s that, brown, downtown like Julie / mixed-race British chicks let me in they coochie”) walks through the aisles of an Indian grocery store in Jackson Heights, knowingly name-checking Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Bisquick (ironic dosa ingredients) with his mug in the camera a la MTV’s Cribs. You sense that the emotional palate these guys have grown up with is part racial consciousness, part where-were-you-when-Kurt-Cobain-died (John Norris, a friend and mentor of Singh’s, moderated the post-screening Q&A). After the final meal, Heems hops in the van and wonders with cheek if the “dosa is a metaphor for the American dream.” Why not?
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