Bipasha Basu’s 1999 New York Lotto Commercial goes viral

South Asian gossip blogs have been a buzz recently over a racy Indian-themed New York Lotto commercial filmed over a decade ago.

Created in 1999 and starring the then-unknown actors Bipasha Basu and Vivek Oberoi, the lavish ad is set in the court of an ancient kingdom. Viewers see a topless princess (Basu) bathing in a pool and briefly glimpse the side of her right breast as she prepares to meet a prince (Oberoi).

Watch the ad below (it gets NSFW at 0:19):

The ad’s appearance on YouTube has created a minor scandal for Basu in India. While she hasn’t spoken about the controversy directly, her representative had this to say:

“Bipasha had done this ad in 1999 when she was modelling for Ford Modelling Agency (sic) in New York. It was done as an international assignment and was meant for the international market. I don’t know why such an old ad has surfaced now.”

What do readers think of this ad? Any speculation as to why it was never aired?

I thought the commercial was striking for the following reasons:

1) The nudity was puzzling. I can’t imagine a station airing an unedited version of this commercial today, let alone in the late 1990s.

2) The spot was ahead of it’s time in a way, as it was produced years before Slumdog Millionaire and the current trend of seeing Indian-Americans everywhere on TV.

3) Lastly, this is by far the most elaborate and expensive Lotto ad that I’ve ever seen. (As a point of comparison click here and here to see other Lotto ads from the nineties.)

Could Aarti Sequeira be the Next Food Network Star?

Attention, foodies! There’s a contestant who specializes in Indian food on the current season of The Next Food Network Star.

Aarti Sequeira is a Los Angeles-based food blogger and the host of Aarti Paarti, her own Internet cooking show. After beginning her career as a journalist, Sequeira’s life took a Julie and Julia-esque turn after her marriage:

A few years later, a freshly-married Aarti moved to Los Angeles, with no job prospects. Cooking dinner for her husband, actor Brendan McNamara (director and cameraman on Aarti Paarti, as well as fellow popcorn jig-er!) became the highlight of her day. She worked her way through both The Joy of Cooking and her mum’s carefully typed out recipes, each dish turning out just a little better than the last. She began to fantasize about each night’s dinner, usually as soon as she had finished her lunch, which she had fantasized about when she finished breakfast, which she’d fantasized about since going to bed the previous evening (seeing a pattern here?).

Here’s an interesting fact I found out about Sequeira’s journalism career while researching this post: she was the co-producer of Sand and Sorrow, the 2007 documentary about Darfur that was produced and narrated by George Clooney.

Watch a clip from the season premiere below. It gets a bit emotional at 1:48 as Sequeira describes what winning would mean for her and her parents, who live in India:

During her introductory package Sequeira said that her goal is to “simplify Indian cooking and make it easy for the average person. I cook rustic family meals with a lot of specific Indian spices. Garam masala, turmeric, cardamom pods.” Yum!

I am very curious to see the kinds of recipes she’ll come up with over the course of the season. The first dish she made on the show was a very simple rasam. You can find the recipe here.

14-year-old desi girl wins Spelling Bee

Congrats, Anamika Veeramani!

The fourteen-year-old eighth grader from North Royalton, Ohio became the 2010 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion last night. Anamika won the trophy and $40,000 in cash and prizes after correctly spelling “stromuhr.” (If, like me, you weren’t familiar with that word, it’s “an instrument for measuring the velocity of the blood flow.”)

Anamika is the third consecutive Indian-American spelling bee champion (following Kavya Shivashankar last year and Sameer Mishra in 2008.) An astonishing 8 out of the last 12 spelling bee champions have been Indian-American. Slate’s Explainer column thinks the phenomenon can be attributed to the community’s “minor-league spelling bee circuit”:

The [North South Foundation] circuit consists of 75 chapters run by close to 1,000 volunteers. The competitions, which began in 1993, function as a nerd Olympiad for Indian-Americans—there are separate divisions for math, science, vocab, geography, essay writing, and even public speaking—and a way to raise money for college scholarships for underprivileged students in India. There is little financial reward for winners (just a few thousand dollars in college scholarships) compared with the $40,000 winning purse handed out each year by Scripps. Still, more than 3,000 kids participated in NSF’s spelling events this year due in part to what NSF founder Ratnam Chitturi calls a sort of Kavya Effect. “Most American kids look up to sports figures,” he says. “Indian kids are more interested in education, and they finally have a role model.”

For their part, Anamika’s family told the AP that they don’t know why Indian-Americans thrive at the bee:

[Anamika’s father Alagaiya Veeramani] guessed it has something to do with a hard-work ethic.

“This has been her dream for a very, very long time. It’s been a family dream, too,” said Veeramani, explaining that his daughter studied as many as 16 hours on some days. “I think it has to do with an emphasis on education.”

16 hours a day! Here’s hoping you have a relaxing summer, Anamika. You earned it.