Films: Play Like a Lion

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Play Like a Lion

Play Like a Lion

USA, 2011, 72 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: Asian, Biographical, Documentary, Music
Program: Documentary Films
Language: English

DIRECTOR: Joshua Dylan Mellars
Producer: Joshua Dylan Mellars
Editor: Joshua Dylan Mellars
Screenwriter: Joshua Dylan Mellars
Cinematographer: Joshua Dylan Mellars
Principal Cast: Ali Akbar Khan, Carlos Santana, Mickey Hart, Zakir Hussain, Derek Trucks, John Handy, Swapan Chaudhuri

With this rich documentary, Joshua Dylan Mellars pays homage to legendary sarodist Ali Akbar Khan, known worldwide as the Emperor of Melody. In 1955, Ali Akbar brought Indian classical music to the United States—and decided to stay, opening the Ali Akbar School of Music in Berkeley, California, where he taught until his death. Mellars follows Alam, Khan’s 24-year-old son, on his first solo tour of India. Alam has dedicated his life to keeping his late father’s musical legend alive: “My mission,” he says, “is to play what I learn from him as purely as I can.” Lesson number one? “Play like a lion.”

Cameo appearances by Carlos Santana, the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart, blues slide guitarist Derek Trux, and jazz great John Handy reveal the wide influence Khan had and still has. Hart, for his part, explains that echoes of the Emperor’s music worked their way into Jerry Garcia’s compositions in the 1960s. With additional testimonials from Khan’s instrument maker, a virtuoso flute player who followed him to America, and the drummer who accompanied him for years, the film introduces us to more than one extraordinary talent. Vintage concert footage and intimate moments between father and son showcase a legacy of musical genius—as well as the deepest family ties.

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