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Tarsem Singh

Tarsem Singh

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Also Known As: Tarsem Dhandwar Singh Died:
Born: May 26, 1961 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Punjab, IN Profession: director

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Indian-born director Tarsem worked extensively in commercials and music videos before making his feature debut with the psycho-thriller "The Cell" (2000), a largely dreamlike film bringing life to the fantastical subconscious thoughts of a serial killer. Educated at a boarding school nestled in the Himalayas, Tarsem moved to the United States to study business at Harvard. After deciding to pursue film studies instead, the would-be director enrolled at Pasadena's renowned Art Center College of Design where he developed his unique, visually dynamic style. Early work included a stint directing the 1990 Suzanne Vega video "Tired of Sleeping", but he would become best known for his handling of R.E.M.'s 1991 smash single "Losing My Religion". Drawing on rarely used references like Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky and Baroque painter Caravaggio, Tarsem turned out a video that enchanted and confounded the audience, not unlike the effect the often misinterpreted song had. The video's muted golden color palette and strange sexual imagery separated "Losing My Religion" from countless other videos and was certainly instrumental in the band's big breakthrough. In addition to being nominated for a Grammy, the...

Indian-born director Tarsem worked extensively in commercials and music videos before making his feature debut with the psycho-thriller "The Cell" (2000), a largely dreamlike film bringing life to the fantastical subconscious thoughts of a serial killer. Educated at a boarding school nestled in the Himalayas, Tarsem moved to the United States to study business at Harvard. After deciding to pursue film studies instead, the would-be director enrolled at Pasadena's renowned Art Center College of Design where he developed his unique, visually dynamic style. Early work included a stint directing the 1990 Suzanne Vega video "Tired of Sleeping", but he would become best known for his handling of R.E.M.'s 1991 smash single "Losing My Religion". Drawing on rarely used references like Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky and Baroque painter Caravaggio, Tarsem turned out a video that enchanted and confounded the audience, not unlike the effect the often misinterpreted song had. The video's muted golden color palette and strange sexual imagery separated "Losing My Religion" from countless other videos and was certainly instrumental in the band's big breakthrough. In addition to being nominated for a Grammy, the video was up for eight MTV Video Music Awards and walked away with six of them, including honors for Video of the Year, Breakthrough Video and an honor specifically for Tarsem, Best Direction in a Video. R.E.M.'s domination of the awards ceremony, and Tarsem's eye catching formal ensemble, complete with turban made the honors all the more memorable to the general public.

While Tarsem's work in directing television commercial spots isn't as inextricably connected to him, his work with products from domestic beer and life insurance to luxury cars and designer clothing have earned him accolades and a sterling reputation in the fiercely competitive and highly creative advertising world. Having previously worked in media that ranges from mere seconds to about five minutes long, Tarsem took on his first feature film project in 2000. With "The Cell", the director hoped that the striking visuals and sweeping yet succinct imagery he employed in his extensive commercial and noted music video work would translate to a large scale feature production. This fantastical psychodrama proved the perfect host for the helmer's skills, demanding an imaginative and dynamic visual accompaniment for a startling and mystifying idea. The film starred Vincent D'Onofrio as a psychotic serial killer in a coma who is harboring a soon-to-expire victim in a mystery locale. Jennifer Lopez was cast as Catherine Deane a therapist with almost superhuman empathetic abilities drafted to enter the mind of the killer in order to save the life of the doomed young woman. The premise sounds like the stuff of a routine thriller, but what Deane finds in the killer's consciousness is a startling wonderland of beauty and horror. Tarsem's uniquely evocative sensibility elevated the film from a supernatural crime drama to a veritable feast for the senses that at once enchanted and horrified. "The Cell" promised to stand apart from the spate of summer releases much like "Losing My Religion" stood apart from other music videos, making for quite an impressive debut entry.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
2.
  Immortals (2011)
3.
  Fall, The (2006)
4.
  Cell, The (2000) Director

CAST: (feature film)

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Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in India and Iran
1990:
Directed the Suzanne Vega video "Tired of Sleeping"
1991:
Made a splash as director of the widely acclaimed R.E.M. video "Losing My Religion"; video took six awards at the MTV Video Music Awards, including honors for Video of the Year, Breakthrough Video and Direction in a Video
1994:
Directed the Deep Forest video "Sweet Lullaby"
:
Worked extensively as a commercial director, helmed memorable and award-winning ad spots for companies including Levi's, Lexus, Miller Lite and Anne Klein
1999:
Directed acclaimed commercial for Philips featuring a couple employing their car and a big screen TV as a personal drive-in
1999:
Won the BAFTA-L.A. Award for excellence in commercial direction
2000:
Made feature directorial debut with the visually dramatic action thriller "The Cell"
2006:
Helmed second feature film, the fantasy drama "The Fall"; also wrote and produced
2008:
Shot international scenes - as second unit director to David Fincher - in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
2011:
Directed Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, and Freida Pinto in action adventure "Immortals"
2012:
Helmed the fantasy comedy "Mirror Mirror," starring Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen and Lily Collins as Snow White
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Harvard University: Cambridge , Massachusetts -
Art Center College of Design: Pasadena , California -

Notes

His Levis "Swimmer" ad won the British Television Advertising Awards' commercial of the year and the Smirnoff "Message in a Bottle" took the Kraft Award and Kodak Award for Excellence.

The Smirnoff spot also earned the director a Gold Lion and Grand Prix de la Press at Cannes [in 1993].

--From Variety, April 22, 1994

On his approach to commercials, he told Variety, April 22, 1994: "Everybody who I have worked with in America knows that I don't shoot storyboards. They should be shooting them with somebody else, or they'll be wasting their money. No, boarding and animatics are nothing to judge by. I just say, 'Give me the ideas, I'll make the boards.' So far, that's worked out quite well with agencies I've worked with in America."

Tarsem on his directing methodology: "My approach is that someone could stop the film anywhere and say, 'That's a cool still.' I say, let's shoot a still and put movement in it. For commercials I just want to know the idea: 'A man swims from pool to pool. The more you wash [Levis jeans], the better they get.' That's the kind of gem or one-liner that I need. I'll provide everything else." --quoted to Daily Variety, April 22, 1994

"I'd say my work, both thematically and visually, reflects the influence of several different directors. I love rubbish cinema, crap films, lovely films, interesting films. I also watch a lot of latenight TV, porno films and Andrei Tarkovsky. All of that is in my work. I never know where it's going to go." --quoted in Variety, as part of the "10 Directors to Watch Feature", January 19, 2000

Jennifer Lopez on working with the neophyte feature helmer: "The great thing about Tarsem is that he knows exactly what he wants in every single frame. That's what you want from a director; knowing that they have a vision and they're going to help you get there whatever way they can. What was also interesting about the film is that we were granted so much artistic license. We could experiment with things so that visually and creatively there were no limits." --quoted in the production notes for "The Cell", 2000

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Annalisa Singh.

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