As Korla Pandit stared into the studio cameras of Los Angeles TV Station KTLA and mesmerized audiences while playing Indian-inspired compositions and popular tunes of the day on the newly introduced Hammond organ, he never spoke a word. While his intense and charismatic gaze captivated audiences in the 1950’s, the story behind those hypnotic eyes, told in KORLA, proves to be one of the more compelling tales in the history of show business.
John Turner and Eric Christensen have completed principal shooting and editing of an hour-and-a-half documentary and are now in need of funds to compete the project.
While the project up until now has been funded out of pocket, more money is needed to finish editing, audio mixing, graphics, and the acquisition and licensing of historic film clips and music rights. We would love to have you join us in our efforts to help fund this amazing documentary.
Like the jewel he wore on his turban, Korla Pandit’s career was many-faceted. He was a television pioneer, a concert organist who popularized the Hammond organ, a spiritual figure and a godfather to the exotica music scene. Over his career, Korla recorded some fifteen albums on Fantasy Records. His songs and showmanshjp were also captured on film by Snader Telescriptions, and early version of the music video, which were syndicated and brought Korla national fame and recognition.
After a falling out with Snader, they proceeded to replace him with a then unknown keyboard player named Liberace. In fact, Korla's act, of breaking the fourth wall, was said to have greatly influenced Liberace’s television performances. After his early television career, Korla traveled the West Coast, playing a range of venues, from supermarket openings, small clubs, and pizza parlors, drive-ins and skating rinks.
He also accompanied on organ screenings of the slient film THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. In the ’90s, he attracted a cult following, playing at Tiki bars and lounges. He also gained widespread fame by appearing in Tim Burton’s film ED WOOD, in which he had a cameo playing at a wrap party held in a meat locker with Johnny Depp and Martin Landau.
KORLA chronicles the rise and fall Mr. Pandit’s show business life. The filmmakers interviewed people who were close to Korla, worked with him, or were influenced by him. The list of people interviewed includes fellow musicians who play the Hammond organ, Booker T. Jones, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and Chester Smith; musician Carlos Santana; new age musician Stephen Halpren; punk rock musicians Kim Shattuck and Ronnie Barnett of The Muffs and recording engineer Brian Kehew. Also interviewed are lounge singer Joey Cheezee, belly dancer Pleasant Gehman; music critic and journalist Ben Fong-Torres; Korla Pandit tribute musician Lance Kaufman; sociologist Dr. Harry Edwards; author R.J. Smith and Korla’s nephew Gary Cloud. Also commenting on Korla’s career are organ enthusiasts and fans, including Freek Kinkelaar, who maintains a website based in the Netherlands dedicated to Korla Pandit.
The story of Korla’s life and what he accomplished was amazing enough, but what was revealed to the public three years after his death in 1998, makes for an even more intriguing story. Korla Pandit was actually not from New Delhi, India. He was John Roland Redd, an African American born in Missouri who chose to “pass” as an Indian. John’s story is a truly American tale, one that explores the complexities of racial identity and the reinventing of oneself.
For additional information about KORLA, interested parties should contact John Turner at email@example.com.
Risks and challenges
We fully anticipate that Korla will be completed in 2014. When that happens, we will enter it into select film festivals. We will keep you informed on our website (not active at present, but the domain is www.korlathemovie.com) as to the reception the film receives and where it will be playing.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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