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October 25, 1999
Hussein Gets Four Stars; Scorsese, Three
A P Kamath in New York
Nearly three years after it was completed, two years after a modest run in art houses across England, and a year after it was shown in a handful of Canadian cities, Waris Hussein's acclaimed film Sixth Happinessreceived a low key release in New York at Art Greenwich Theater last week.
But the movie, released by a little-known distribution company, and which is expected to be shown in at least a dozen cities, caught the attention of major New York critics, though The New York Times ignored it.
Hussein, one of the most successful television directors in Hollywood, and whose films have cast such talents as Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Anthony Quinn, Ann Margret and Raul Julia, has directed few theater-bound movies. And this is the only second time he has directed -- apart from a television version of E M Foster's Passage to India -- a film with an Indian subject.
The movie is based on Learning to Grow, an autobiographical work by Firdaus Kanga, who also plays the lead in it. It tells the story of a young man, Britt, with a rare brittle disease and his eccentric and colorful family in Bombay.
Reviewed in the same week in which Martin Scorsese's $ 30 million film, Bringing Out the Dead was released, Hussein's film, made for about $ one million, received three stars from Daily News . Daily News had given three-and-a-half stars (out of four) to the Scorsese film. And Newsday gave Sixth Happiness four stars while another reviewer for the same newspaper gave Scorsese three stars.
"Under Waris Hussein's solid, unpretentious direction, Sixth Happiness gushes forward with enough events to pad a mini-series," wrote Newsday. "A buoyant spirit keeps it from devolving into pathos; Kanga gives us permission to (and reason) to laugh at the human comedy prompted by his condition.
"Too itinerant to pass as great art, it is a delightful roller-coaster ride, nonetheless, one that leaves you at the end wanting on to stay on for one more spin around."
Daily News said: "Kanga/Brit shows that being gay, disabled and member of an ostracized minority is no reason to feel sorry for yourself. Though the humor and some of the acting are often forced, this is a warm and uplifting tale."
Hussein says when he made the film, he was aware of the comparison being made with My Left Foot, a British film, which won several Oscars, including one for the lead character played by Daniel Day Lewis.
Kanga's experiences of growing up in Bombay through the '60s and '70s, bears some resemblance to My Left Foot's story of writer Christy Brown growing up in Dublin.
But Hussein also knew that his film told a story set in another country and had sensibility and character of its own.
The movie, which has been shown at half a dozen film festivals across North America is available on video.
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