Korla Pandit was once the most famous "Indian" in the United States. A pianist, organist and composer, Pandit claimed to have been born in New Delhi to a Brahmin father and French mother. And Musical Adventures with Korla Pandit featuring his brand of exotic music was beamed to millions of homes across the US five days a week. Pandit even cut 14 records of his "jungle drum" music.
A closer look at Pandit reveals how his exotic persona was as much a feat of a creative imagination as the best fiction on TV. Pandit was born John Roland Redd in St Louis, Missouri, to parents of African American origins, undergoing a racial reinvention to become the famous exotic musician. Now, a documentary traces Pandit's life and career, from the popularity of his TV show to the later cult following he garnered.
Directed and produced by John Turner and Eric Christensen, Korla: The Movie is a look at the godfather of exotica music. Colleagues from a TV station, Turner and Christensen grew up watching Pandit's show and decided to make the film when two years after his death in 1998, Los Angeles magazine revealed his true identity.
The funds for the film were raised on Kickstarter and it was part of the official selection for the Harlem International Film Festival, Jozi Film Festival and Newport Beach Film Festivals, 2015.
The documentary features his fellow musicians Carlos Santana, Booker T. Jones, Stephen Halpern and the rock journalist Ben Fong-Torres discussing Pandit's contributions to music.
Through the 900 episodes of his show Pandit never spoke a word, the television show played his performances, intercutting to close ups of his face gazing into the camera.
A single jewel hanging from his turban, Korla stared unblinking into the camera having a peculiarly mesmerising effect on his American audiences. His music was also often accompanied by oriental performances as in the above clip.