Narnia takes India

Outdoors and indoors, India is speckled with colors and stories. Each corner that we pass by on a rickshaw, taxi, or on foot holds inquisitive beauty. A lover of all things Baz and some things Wes, I became enamored with India’s walls and symmetrical architecture. Baz borrows the color and excitement of popular Indian cinema. Roaming the streets of Mumbai makes me see how such inspiration can come out of a turquoise wall and a gusher-red sari.

Below are a series of moments I’ve captured that momentarily left me enchanted in this magical world of Narnia part two.

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This is on the way to a sitara’s slum and community. Sitara means star and I was geeking out that I found a star inbetween some buildings while walking there. It’s a jewish star of David, which made me intrigued and a bit reserved. I haven’t met any Jews here, leaving me to wonder my place as a Jew in this community.

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Juhu Beach. So many colors on the walls and in the beauty that was the ice cream. Here is where I fell in love with the thought of having ice cream as a days meal. ALL THE ICE CREAM AND COLORS.

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En route to the Abhyudaya school. Our documentary short took me and my fellow classmates on several journeys similar to Narnia. Surrounded by rubble and small wardrobe-like houses, the sitaras that our cameras followed find hopes and dreams and are happy in their community and life. This particular picture is of the Hostel at the Bhavan’s College. Here it’s like a dormitory for students.

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En route to the store, Tribal Route. A store dedicated to handcrafted items solely of Indian artisans.

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This picture is where I learned my love of distressed doors and walls. Lolz

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At the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Super fancy, super beautiful, super Wes. Later, at the hair salon I learned that mahal means palace, so the hotel is kinda repeating itself… It was so beautiful and visually pleasing, I can’t even.

Why Narnia? Because Narnia is a magical place of escape from reality. These moments bring me to peace and showed me that there is escape everywhere and when it’s found in the present, you can appreciate life and the little parts of it so much more.

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Rope of dreams

Week number two (no pun intended) has been a completely different experience than the first in this fabulously hot and sticky city of Mumbai. We’ve separated into three different groups to make mini-documentaries on Stray Dogs, girls’ education, and mentor/mentee relations in the Abhyudaya program. My team is taking on the mentor/mentee relations.

Abhyudaya is a program that takes ‘sitaras’ or shining, star students from Mumbai’s slums and helps them to achieve their academic and life goals and dreams. Whitney, Losa, and I entered the project with a very loose plan, which has been stressful but nonetheless rewarding, raw, and real. We got to know some great kids and young adults that held dreams ranging from being a professional Tae Kwon Do practitioner, working in robotics, and inventing new things in science. Like their mentors, I became extremely inspired by these ‘sitaras’ hopes for the future. These kids are growing up in slums that are shocking to the urban eye, but hold a sense of community unspoken in developed areas.

When we first stepped into the slum, I was adjusting my white balance and seldom looking up from the sleek technology at my fingertips. Instantly, I could feel the city walls and sidewalk close in and stare at my fellow teammates and me. A motorcycle honk woke me up from the technology and brought me to the color of the slums. There was color reflecting in my eyes, nose, and ears. The uneven street leaned in and out with mud, mango peels, and puddles splashing through the cobblestones. On either side, stores shouted sales, kids played with sugar cane, mothers hid behind hanging clothes, goats toddled along finding shade, and flies filled up half the constricting air.

Snapping behind the mentor and mentee who led us through the slum, I was pulled towards my right. We entered the neighborhood of sitara, Affan. It was cool and dark and full of curious children and adults. To get to Affan’s home, we climbed up a steep ladder with a rope to hold our weight from the top of the home. Welcomed to smiling faces and bright blue walls, we saw the happiness of the family. Initially, I felt awkward because I didn’t want to be an intruder to their home. With time and questions, we all felt more comfortable and the relationship between Affan and his family and his mentor were more evident. They really love each other and see the worth and possibility that each member have for the future. They don’t see their little one-room flat with piled appliances in one corner, a stove in the other, and a newly hand-constructed loft 9 feet above the floor, as a restriction; they see the positives of life and of dreams. Dreams are what we live for and unconditional love is how we survive.

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GOA GET ICE CREAM AND SHIMMY DOWN DA STREETZ

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SNAP. In the midst of all the commotion, people were snapping away, capturing every moment of preparation for the shoot. Mirror selfie to my left, costumes being thrown across the passageway, candid shot to my right, bodies filing in with paper plates of food, snapchat from a high angle, make-up clouding the room, facebook buzzing with notifications. This is expected from the next generation: a multitude of moment-sharing with the Wifi world. This Bollywood experience felt like forever and a blur but thankfully will live on in snaps, shares, .mov’s, and my memory.

The preparation for the dance shoot was both glamorous and sticky. Still getting used to the weather, the tight fitting clothing and ironed hair created an uncomfortable yet beautiful effect. Thankfully, the crew took a lesson from Honey Boo Boo and provided us with “special juice” to bump up our electrolyte and energy points. When I arrived on the set, I became enamored with the crew, crane, and aesthetics. The crew was calm and composed, having most everything organized and set out, and the crane shined in its beauty when bending back and forth to capture the perfect shot and movement. What first was the outside of Whistling Woods International transformed into a sparkling fountain of youth, graffitied city streets, and festive farm of lanterns. In the fountain of youth we shimmied like guppies, on the streets we sipped on empty coconuts, and on the farm we glimmered like goddesses under the lanterns.

During the dinner and digestion break, a couple of fellow dancers/Orangemen and I improvised rounds of rhythm and oo’s. We’re in India. Singing rounds and making memories. We’re dancing the Lungi dance in India and are working with people talented in the ever growing and mystical Bollywood industry. The Bollywood dance shoot from 6:00 at night to 3:30ish in the morning is one that I will remember forever. Cliché as that sounds, this event was definitely something different than all the rest.

Every hour feels like eternity here. After this amazing shoot, we continued on our adventures through the colorful land of Mumbai. At Juhu Beach we pranced around feeling the texture of the sand rub between our feet and sandals. The ocean is as warm as your underarms and the people who roam along it have hearts that are even warmer. One of the things that I kept asking for during the first week was ICE CREAM. Let me tell you, JUHU HAS MAD ICE CREAM DOH. Go and get it all and have a jolly good time.

Next goal: go a day only eating ice cream. #nom
This happened: dancing in a wedding on the street. #lyfe
Belly talk: falooda and chicken tikka croissants and FRESH MANGOS #nompt2
Market chillin: nighttime best time to haggle #yuppp
SPOTTED: Goats and Boar with crows on its back #tru

PIMP MY RICKSHAW ©MTV (Mumbai TV)

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EXT. OBERI MALL, MUMBAI- NIGHT

After a stressful last-minute bandeau and spandex shopping trip for the shoot of their Bollywood dance number the following night, SCARN, IARN, and SETH GREEN scavenge for an open rickshaw on the hectic streets of Mumbai, India. This’ll be their third attempt with one of these three-wheeled, miniature rollercoasters.

Amidst the chaos surrounding Oberi Mall, Seth catches sight of an open and purty swagilicious “auto.” The three flag down the rickshaw and use their recently-learned hindi to direct the driver to “Andheri East, Chakala Church jana hai, highway se le lo.”

INT. SWAGGIE RICKSHAW- NIGHT

The rickshaw looks like the end product of Pimp-My-Ride: Mumbai Style. There are glowing blue lights strung around the inside of the ceiling, green patterned and laminated cushion in the front, and modern club-like white walls in the back. To accompany this pimped-out style, Seth, Scarn, and Iarn sing a little Lungi tune “coconut me lassi mi like it” and dance around, being the typical crazy white folk that others think they are.

During the second half of the ride, the three realized that their surroundings looked unfamiliar. Expected from a pimped out ride, they got a deceptive back-road driver, hungry for more rupees to pimp out his ride even more. Thankfully, the three backseat tourists arrived at their location, the magical Sai Palace Hotel!

INT. SAI PALACE ROOM 511- NIGHT

Scarn and Iarn drop their purchases on the marble floor of the elegant room adorned with neat bedspreads and cleaned counters. Iarn savors the complimentary chocolate with some refrigerated bottled water, while Scarn takes a look at the days moments captured on her Iphone.

The two collapse atop their respective twin beds and feel the soreness of the day’s activities taking over every muscle in their bodies. After two days of yoga and choreography for the Bollywood number to be shot Friday night, these twin beds felt like clouds and marshmallows.

 

Yoga is held three times a week at 9 am at Whistling Woods International in the acting studio in the Wifi zone. The SUBollywood family uses this time as one to connect to the outside world, to their bodies, and to each other. This acting studio encloses movement and harmony. Yoga is a chance to feel at peace with yourself and realize your worth in the world and in your own skin. Chanting “om” with hands clapped at the chest, one vibrates and connects to a spiritual world.

Learning the choreography for the Lungi Dance Bollywood number is a bit different. There is more room to fool around and connect with your fellow dancers rather than your internal and external spirits. I’ve had many conversations with my fellow female dancers about the overly sexualized choreography and dance style in India and in the Lungi dance that we are learning. During my mid-afternoon bathroom adventures I contemplated the attitude and sexuality that Bollywood dancers embody. In America, relationships and sexuality are a part of everyday life, and are encouraged or educated at a young age. In contrast, relationships and sexuality are less encouraged in traditional India but are a method of revolution or rebellion. While us Americans feel awkward doing these hip movements and lip pouts, Indians take it as an opportunity to express emotions that would have been looked down upon in the past. They take it as empowerment and as a way to be in complete control of their own bodies. I love that we are given this chance to defeat the awkwardness and hopefully embrace our bodies as a gift and as something that should move and bend independently and with dancers at your side, in unison.

 

I am rushing this a bit because I need to get ready for the 6pm to 6am dance shoot that we are having tonight so here is a list of glorious things that happened that I couldn’t express quickly enough because typing is hard and hard is no fun and yes, okay.. cool:

 

-lecture by production designer Sabyasachi Bose. He is uber talent and is a grand being who, in his lecture, solidified my love for the aesthetics and story-world building of filmmaking.

-Thali nom noms.  This is the circle of nine foods that illustrate the Rasa or nine emotions that Popular Indian films attempt to concur in their 2-3 hour movies. Also delicious and nutritious!

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-“Best pesto in the world grilled veg sandwich.” Nah it tasted like poo but I got this FRESH MANGO + MANGO ICECREAM + MILK + NOODLES + CHIA SEEDS that was ERMAHZING to clean my pallet of the horror of the pesto!

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-Iffy tummy probs

-Glorious veg dominos pizza (better than US dominos)

-ALL the Bollywood song numbers are so beautiful and colorful

-PROPS ON PROPS ON PROPS

-The people on this trip are amazing

-It feels like we are leaving soon, but really we get to stay for SO MUCH MORE TYME AND THAT MAKES ME SO EXCITE AND HAPPY!

“Mumbai’s HOTTEST club: 48 hours!” -Stefan

The first 48 hours in Mumbai have been a blur, a blessing, and full of movement. More than once, I’ve commented on how these 48 hours have felt like a week in this enchanting city. Since we first stepped off the plane, we’ve met uber inspiring and successful people like Shanoo, Popular Indian Cinema Casting Director, ate piles of food of different spice ranges, rode in rickshaws, attempted to haggle street prices, learned how to say ‘thank you’ in Hindi, and participated in Bollywood dance number workshops at film school, Whistling Woods International…

It all started at Reagan National Airport in DC, when we were two hours too early to our two-hour delayed flight where we would meet our to-be SUBollywood friends in the fabulously large Newark airport. The moment that we all congregated in Newark, I knew that this journey was going to be epic. The 15 hour plane ride from Newark to Mumbai solidified my expectations of epicness when watching multiple films, learning some impromptu Hindi, and doing little dances to myself and my neighbors.

When we arrived in Mumbai, it was late and hot and beautiful. The first time was a culture shock but this time I felt like I could look at and through every element, searching for a story or hidden beauty. The airport artwork and city architecture and interior design began to catch my eye.

We arrived at this beautiful hotel, the Sai Palace, which has 7 levels including a roof that is home to a gorgeous view and haunting crows. The main desk and chandelier caught my eye and comforted me in my sweaty-post-airplane state.

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This will be my home for the next two weeks where I will become close to these beautiful people who decided to embark on this journey, where I will have amazing breakfasts, late night room service, watch Bollywood films in the am’s, and use only a handful of Wifi hours.

Next amazing piece of awesome is the view from the rickshaws/buses/taxis. The outside world of Mumbai is pretty brown and grey but abundantly spotted, like a dalmatian, with tapestries, hanging clothing and blankets, and intricate signs of brilliant, vibrant colors. I feel like this represents the city in the context of the world because it is perceived as a hopeless place, but has so many areas of sparkle and shine that bring life to the inside and outside community.

Another place we ventured off to during one “late” night.. i.e. 7-11pm (HEYOO SLURPEES!) was an urban restaurant/dance place. There we met Shanoo Sharma, who intrigued me with her chair-hoop earrings and contagious personality, and inspired me with her journey to becoming the best casting director in India and sticking to what she loves. The restaurant not only held this masterpiece of a human, but also a minimalist meets romantic Grecian architecture. Most everything was sleek and white, making all of its inhabitants the splashes of color.

FLASHFORWARD TO NOW: We just finished the first day of school at Whistling Woods International where inspiration becomes a fervid part of my vocabulary. I cannot wait to continue opening my mind and filling it with culture and positivity, making tight bonds with this fabulous community, trying new things, dancing in a Bollywood number, diving into a mini-documentary, and living and breathing India. This post isn’t nearly half the adventures of 48 hours, but right now, I’ve got a rumbly in my tumbly and need to see to it. This ain’t toodle-oo, it is namaste to the next three weeks of adventure and new-found beauty in the unexpected India.

En Route To Another Narnia

How does one begin? What I’m feeling right now can only be described by this:

Electro Bollywood music. Tingling, shimmying, jumping, shaking hips, vibrating insides. I cannot effectively describe how excited I am for embarking on such an unpredictable adventure and journey tomorrow. Everything feels surreal, while my imagination predicts stories of the ages. All that I expect out of the trip is to immerse myself in the culture, make new friends (or siblings) that will last a lifetime, and live and breathe my heart out in India.

Ever since my first visit to India, I knew I had to come back. Previously enchanted by the Himalayas and Tibetan refugees, round two of India will definitely be a change. Excitement does not even begin to describe how I feel. I can’t wait to live and become one with the culture, to henna my entire hands and feet, to hail down a rickshaw, to dance, to capture every piece of beauty, and to live!  I could not have asked for a better time to go on round two of India. This year has been a crazy one but life is starting to fall into place and be a jambalaya of exploration and discovery.

Bollywood embodies a new world. Tomorrow is the beginning of a journey to a place similar to Narnia, where the body and Earth become one and where emotions mix into a masala of color, shapes, and movement.

I’m leaving this little bubble of Arlington, Virginia with no expectations but to come back with three weeks full of smiles and memories.

Let this crazy adventure commence!