Sunday, February 8, 2009

Birdie Num Num

One of my father’s favorite actors was Peter Sellers. He first introduced us to Sellers by renting the movie, The Party, a 1968 comedy written and directed by Blake Edwards, also starring Claudine Longet. We thought the film was hilarious; we spent that Saturday afternoon in hysterics. We enjoyed watching Peter Sellers as he played Hrundi V. Bakshi, a well-intentioned, but hapless, Indian actor who is accidentally invited to a lavish Hollywood party, where he causes havoc. Two decades later, I still burst out in laughter when I remember some of the scenes, especially when Bakshi talks gibberish and overfeeds "Birdie Num Nums" to a macaw.

I wonder how well received the movie would be if it were released in today’s politically correct environment. Did you know that, at one time, India had banned the film? [Read this]. Furthermore, according to Wikipedia, acclaimed Bengali Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray was at one time set to make his American feature debut with Sellers in a leading role for his science fiction film, The Alien. When Ray came to visit Sellers on the set of The Party, he was so disgusted by Sellers' performance and the film, he refused to meet Sellers again. He felt it was a coarse caricature [Read this for more]. Apparently, Ray and other critics of the film do not share the same sense of humor as the fans of Peter Sellers. Richard Combs, the Film Comment writer, put it well when he said The Party is "both classic farce and trenchant satire, a self-sufficient fantasy about the fantasy of Hollywood life."

Had I not seen this movie with my father when I was a child, would I have the same feeling toward it? I do not know. What actually surprises me is that ever since I watched that movie I have been using the line “Birdie Num Num” to say “I am hungry” or “The food tastes good”. Oftentimes, I do so without even realizing it. Recently, my sister brought her future in-laws from out of state to introduce them to the family in a traditional ceremony. When she went back, she emailed me a clip of “Birdie Num Num” scene. I had a good laugh. Next time you are in a restaurant and you overhear someone say “Birdie Num Num”, don’t fret because you might just be seating next to me.

With apologies to Satyajit Ray, enjoy:

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