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Interview with Niraj Bhatia, Executive Producer of A Tribe Called Quest Documentary

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By Michelle London Bell


On Friday, July 29, 2011, Angelika Film Center at Mockingbird Station will host the Dallas premiere of the documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, presented by Sony Pictures Classics.  This independent masterpiece has been featured at the Sundance, Tribeca and Los Angeles Film Festivals and received rave reviews from fans and critics alike.  The film’s Director, Michael Rapaport, will host a Q&A session following the 8 p.m. showing of the film.

After viewing the documentary earlier this week – I was truly blown away by the execution of the directorial and production teams, as indicated in my review.  And I was floored when I discovered that the film actually has ties to North Texas.  The executive producer of the film is a Dallas native.

Niraj Bhatia, a graduate of the University of Southern California with an emphasis in film studies, was one of the key players in making this film a reality.  Being a lover of hip hop and A Tribe Called Quest – he was sold on getting behind this project from the start.  I recently caught up with Niraj to discuss his background in film, love of music and how this project came about!

Michelle London Bell and Executive Producer Niraj Bhatia

Michelle London-Bell: So – how did you initially become involved with the Tribe Called Quest project?

Niraj Bhatia: A friend of mine from USC, Frank Mele, is actually a mutual friend of Michael Rapaport’s as well.  Frank and I had tried to connect on projects before – but it never materialized.

I actually ran into [Frank] at a social gathering, and he mentioned that he was just brought onboard to work on the documentary of A Tribe Called Quest.  I wanted to be involved immediately.  He had me at A Tribe Called Quest!

I knew and understood the personal and commercial appeal of the project.  After watching two hours of raw footage with Phife and Q-Tip so captivating on film, I ran it by my business partner and it was a done deal.  Then he mentioned Michael Rapaport, and it all made sense.

MLB: OK, so you mentioned that you are a fan of the group, so it’s obvious you are a music lover.  How did you personally get involved with film?

NB: Yes, my whole family loves music – of all genres.  I was first introduced to hip hop by my older sister, four years my senior.  At 32 years old, I got into it right on the cusp of when the hip hop movement was taking off.  There is a huge similarity between upbeat dance Indian music and African-American music, with the heavy baseline, believe it or not.  Similar to [African-American] music – the beat just captures you and captivates you from the beginning.

I attended USC and that is how I got into film.  It was such a great experience and has been a great asset for me with the network I built, the relationships and the connections.  My parents have always been supportive of my passion for film and the arts, so that made it easy as well.

MLB: That makes sense.  What other projects have you been affiliated with?

NB: Nothing [that] the masses would be familiar with.  I produced this short film called Placebo, which  was featured at the AFI Film Festival.  I actually met a lot of other cool people in the film industry at that festival.  I am actually into a lot of ventures aside from film – but they mainly serve to finance my passion for filmmaking.

It is so surreal for this project to be featured at all the independent film festivals – and to have garnered so much attention that it has.  At Sundance in Utah, Phife actually came to the festival to show his support.  He actually got emotional during the Q&A – and as a filmmaker, you want to have that sort of impact on the subject of the film.

Ali Shaheed Muhammad came to the Tribeca Film Festival in New York to lend his support.  He liked the finished product after seeing the film.  Jarobi White came to the LA Film Fest – all were pretty positive about it.”

MLB: So, what’s next? Will there be a Part II for the documentary or a ‘Where Are They Now’ take on A Tribe Called Quest?

NB: “We hope so – we don’t know.  It would be great to see them reunite and do another album.  One should only hope for that.  As fans, we want to see that. We’ll see – I’ll keep you posted.”

MLB:  Please do!  Thank you for your time, and good luck on your appearance on Good Morning Texas Friday morning with Michael Rapaport.

NB:  “It was my pleasure.”

Photo by James Chutter via Wikimedia Commons

Michelle London-Bell started writing at Dallas South News in 2010 and has experience as a freelance writer and also contributes to Examiner.com. She has a passion for fashion, the arts, and community and cultural affairs. She also covers music and entertainment. She can be reached at michelle@dallassouthnews.org.

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