Shuffle, Cheese, Click, Resume, Repeat (x74)

Staged pictures have always seemed like an odd concept to me.  The whole act of staging yourself and your companions to look happy and smiley in front of some landmark with some significance in order to look back on that specific moment years later and say, “Hey! Look how happy and smiley we were when we visited that place that one time!…What was it called again?” just seems like a construction of artificial emotion.  As a budding filmmaker though, the fact that this crosses my mind and slightly bothers me is also an odd concept since everything I plan to ever create will most likely be an artificial construction and be staged in some sense.  However, in real life, I just find it odd to shuffle into position, “cheese!”, *click*, resume, and repeat. 

We visited the Gateway of India this past Sunday where I was confronted with more of these staged photos than I could have ever expected.  As soon as I walked through the security gates, photographers approached me with laminated photos of unknown faces smiling and posing in front of the arch and offered to take my picture for a “good price.”  I responded with something that has almost become habit, with a nahi (no) and a shake of the head and continued walking towards the group, who were now forming to take a group photo. As I was making my way towards familiar faces, a family approached me and who I assume to be the mom said, “photo, photo!”, held up a finger and pointed towards a man with a camera.  At first, I thought that they wanted me to take a picture of them and was all “of course, yeah!” and started towards the man with the camera, but he made a face that made me realize that they actually wanted to take a picture with me.  Which I really don’t understand why other than for the reason that I am a Whiter Shade of Pale and happen to be blonde.  And, assuming they didn’t recognize me from any of my highly distributed and acclaimed video class projects, I don’t think there was any other reason than this. So, I took a picture with the family, said my thank yous and you’re welcomes and continued towards the SU group, but more people approached me asking for pictures “quickly” and “just one” and I soon found myself becoming “that girl who looked different who we saw that one time in front of that one place that time.”

It became sort of overwhelming when I would finish a picture with somebody and a new person would come up and go through the whole procedure again.  Some people said hello and would shake my hand, but some people just stood next to me and expected a smile and pose.  I learned some names and had a couple of conversations lasting a stunted twenty seconds each, but I doubt I would be able to recognize a majority of the people who I took pictures with that day if I saw them in a different context.

I’ve never been in a situation where people who I had no prior acquaintance with wanted to save a moment with me for posterity. And it was mad weird.  Just like my maple syrup, I try to stay as real and organic as possible, but these pictures taken with people I didn’t get the chance to know and will probably never see just seem digital, pixelated, and artificial.  But who knows, maybe one day our paths will cross again and I will meet my soulmate.  Or maybe we already met.  Woah. 

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photos by Iarn aka Iara Rogers Benchoam

Dogs. Dogs. Dogs. Dogs. Dogs.

This post is about dogs!

This past week, we put our lungis down and danced our way over to documentary town.  The #SUBollywood crew broke up into three groups to each create a documentary for a specific NGO.  Aaron, Tyler, Veronica, Nate, and I chose to work for WSD India, the Welfare for Stray Dogs with the assistance of our mentor, Mark. 

After getting an overview of documentary filmmaking from the faculty of Whistling Woods on Monday, we journeyed to Town on Tuesday to meet with the owner of WSD and form a greater understanding of the organization’s goals and expectations for the film.  We quickly learned on our commute to the office space that the trains in Mumbai do not stop for anyone, but luckily the animal instincts in Veronica, Mark, and me kicked in and we made the train. 

We began shooting in the streets by our hotel on Thursday and got a very solid amount of dogs panting and sleeping under cars.  Later, we went to Versova and were able to get more dynamic shots and snag a quick interview from the owner of the Tribal Route Store about his four adopted street dogs. 

Today, we started off the day with a relaxing yoga session at Whistling Woods and then ric’d over to Versova village where there were many a dog and many a smell and many a human.  It was a beautiful experience mastering the art of communicating without speaking with the village people and being invited into their village with smiles and waves. 

Here are a few of the frames from the past two days of shooting, enjoi!

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MumBAI Week 1, hah. Get it? Get it?

FRIDAY

Sometimes you just have to stop moving and talking and singing and dancing and just absorb life and what is going on in that specific moment.  We had the incredible opportunity to, not only participate, but dance and star in a Bollywood item number choreographed by a professional choreographer and shot by a professional director of photography and current Whistling Woods students.  I’ve never been on a shoot that ran so smoothly, professionally, and efficiently—maybe it was because they had a track and crane—but really, I kept realizing that this moment was not one that comes every day.Image

I felt a tad like a drag queen with all of my makeup and I have bruises from shoving millions of bangles onto my man hands. I also don’t want to speak for everyone, but I think we could all agree that the first take of the dance on the first location was rougghhhhhh. I forgot a solid majority of the moves in front of a crew of around 20 people committing their time and energy and resources to Americans flailing to Lungi Dance. But then the moves started returning to my brain and we got to dance in water and I pet a puppy, so life was good.

Huge shout out to life and just how cool it can be.

 

SATURDAY

ImageOn this chill off day, we walked to a local market about 20 minutes away from the hotel and consumed freshly cut coconuts, mangos, and the sweet, sweet sighting of a prancing goat.  And if you don’t know me, these are three of my absolute favorite things in the world, so I was a content little human.

Later that night, we journeyed to Town (downtown Bombay) and hung out at Blue Frog, a hip restaurant/comedy/music venue. I forgot we were in India until the stand-up comedians started speaking in Hindi and commenting on Indian parents.  Blue Frog then transformed into a DJ and dance venue after the comedy routine and I felt like I was at a less uncomfortable and more inviting high school homecoming dance or middle school LFD (Arlingtonians, you know what I’m saying).  We later realized that the night’s music theme was Old School Hip Hop and Trap Music so the throwback, nostalgic feels all made sense.  I’m still a bit confused why everyone knew every Kanye song in its entirety, though, but we’ll just let that be an unsolved mystery.

 

SUNDAY

The adventure continued on to Juhu Beach where we were immediately met by small children asking for food and money with huge eyes and small little hands and feet.  Don’t be surprised if I come home with an Indian child.Image

After eating delicious local ice cream and taking pictures with so many people, we went to lunch at Candies in Bandra and it was like a ‘choose your own adventure’ kind of meal. Highlights included large samosas for only 6 rupees ($0.10) and a double shot cappuccino that shut up the coffee addict inside me.

Later we went for a casual stroll around Victoria Street and it was a calm, quaint oasis away from the chaos and constant movement in the streets of Mumbai that I had become accustomed to.  Suddenly, we heard music in the distance and stumbled upon a local Marati wedding procession in the street. So, impromptu dancing in the streets ensued! Beautiful.  Everybody was so incredibly inviting and so happy.  It was the kind of happiness that was pure, simple, and unbiased.  No one had to speak the same language or have the same upbringing to enjoy the simple joy of sharing music and dance with other people.

It was getting dark and we had been out and about for 6/7ish hours at this point so, of course, we decided to go to a market to shop shop shop!  It felt like we were in a show on Discovery Channel given 30 minutes to shop in the city streets of India and end up with the greatest, cheapest items. I ended up buying two pairs of pants for 200 rupees each ($3.33) that I really do not understand, but I figured you don’t really need to understand pants to wear them, and a light yellow cotton shirt for 200 rupees too.

Update—I paid for the pants later today when I had to sew up a gaping hole in the crotch area.  Thanks Mom for teaching me how to sew when I was younger.

 

 

So You Think You Can Dance? No? Okay!

Mumbai is an absolute trip.  It’s one of the fastest-paced, liveliest, loudest, and most vibrant cities. It swallows you whole and spits you out into what seems like a chaotic mass of noise, people, dogs, cats, smells (oh the smells), etc., but then you break Mumbai into its individual parts and you realize that everybody is just living their own lives, and even life itself is always a little chaotic.

I love it.

I love feeling the purest form of life—of people living their own individual lives in such close proximity to each other even if they never come into contact.  Everybody’s story of their life is uniquely their own, but also fascinatedly similar to everybody else around them.  Just like the band, They Might Be Giants, says in Malcolm in the Middle, Mumbai is a city that reminds you you’re “not so big.”

I think this is one of the reasons that cinema is such a powerful source of entertainment and culture here.  Indian cinema strives to elicit navrasa or the nine human emotions or experiences in their films.  These emotions include shringar (love, beauty), hasya (laughter, comedy), karuna (compassion, mercy), rauda (fury), vira (pride, heroism), bhayanaka (horror), bibhastsa (disgust), adbhuta (wonder), and shanta (tranquility, peace).  In a culture as dense and diverse as India’s, these rasas act as a bridge for connection and reminds all of us that everyone, in the simplest form, is human.

I could keep writing for pages and pages about the beauty of human life and the power of cinema to suspend prejudice and inspire community, but it’s now time to talk about DANCE!

For the past two days, we have melted in an acting studio at Whistling Woods between classes about Indian culture and cinema taught by professors who are extremely relevant in the industry, to learn a choreographed dance to Lungi Dance, a song from the new Bollywood film, Chennai Express. Our choreographer Sanjeev can’t be taller than 5’7”, has the biggest, most mischievous smile, and the greatest energy and passion for dance.  I am always amazed how he can make a simple side-to-side shimmy explode with power, attitude, and passion.

I think the reason I’m so amazed is because personally I do not consider myself a dancer.  At parties, I’m the one doing Jimmy Fallon’s Evolution of Dad Dancing moves. At dance showcases, I’m the one in the audience with their mouth completely gaping in awe.  Never, ever, did I expect to dance a choreographed dance and for it to be filmed.  For all ETERNITY. On FILM. FOREVER.

But, you know, when in India, do as the Indians do.  So here we are, dancing in an item number in just a number of hours.  Even though my moves really do not compare to those of Sanjeev or the four professional dancers with us, it has been beyond fun absorbing the energy exuded by Bollywood dance.  Today, we are being treated like stars with customized outfits for three different locations, jewelry, professional makeup and hair, and a highly talented production crew from Whistling Woods.

Now the word is out that this is happening and that there will be video proof of it, so I guess there’s no other option than to kill it today. Boom boom, Chalo!

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Aaron and I glistening and enthusiastic after an intense dance sesh

A Heat-Induced Mind

Aaaahhhh what?! How has it only been 24 hours?! (Well, officially now it’s been more than that, but we are now in the zone of free WiFi so we’re all just going to pretend) I think that maybe Time just suspends in the Indian heat and humidity until you realize you just filled your day with a weeks-worth of activity. Or maybe I was just used to kickin’ it back with my good buddy, Snuggie, and my even better bud, Netflix, so this is a mad change in my daily routine.

That being said, I would take this day in Mumbai over any day binging a whole season of Friday Night Lights. Sorry Netflix, you’ve been replaced.

Where should I even begin? Hmm. Here, I’ll just grant you all access to my thoughts from the first 24 hours starting from landing at the airport.

Warning: These thoughts may not make too much conscious sense, but forgive me because of the heat and full day of traveling, etc.  I will make more cohesive paragraphs and use real English in the next posts. Promise.

Welcome to my heat-melted brain!

  • Oh mah gah! This is actually real.
  • Mmkay, Yup. People weren’t lying when they said it was humid here.
  • Wow. Nope. Definitely not lying.
  • Are driving lanes just not a thing?
  • And are red lights really just more “guidelines”?
  • Oh. And rickshaws are not bikes and are actually called “autos”. LEARNING.
  • DOGS.  Oh so many dogs!
  • Let’s take them all home?! No Sarah no. Too much paperwork, no.
  • Lesson 1: Pickled vegetables are not to be eaten on their own #spicy
  • “Ooh Iarn! let’s make a vid-” Nope, Body says ‘zzzzzzz’
  • Is this The Lady and The Tramp meets The Hunchback of Notre Dame??
  • Oh nope it’s just more dogs howlin’ at some church bells.
  • OH DAT VIEW DOE AYO
  • GOOOD MORNING MUMBAII!
  • Are we allowed to eat this or no….?
  • Is this modest enough? No? Shoulders. Right.
  • Whistling Woods: Newhouse but with Mad Heat (and apparently sometimes leopards and cobras)
  • Confusion.
  • All of the beautiful people are involved in Indian cinema, my lord.
  • Can we just do ALL OF THE THINGS?!?!
  • Oh I guess I’m signed up for an Indian film fest now?
  • Confusion.
  • Time to experience some real Indian Food! “I’ll take the Veg. Pizza, please.”
  • Bollywood dance workshop? Okay sure lezz do eeet!
  • Wait how does the body even move like that..?
  • Okay, okay.  Got it. These hips don’t lie! Pshh.
  • Oh gah. So. Damn. Hot.
  • Shower is needed.
  • Lemme just down this whole water bottle here, thank you.
  • One day I’ll find you, Mango, one day.
  • Ooh I should edit that vid–sleeeep, zzz, zzz…
  • Where am I? Is it morning? No?! It’s only 6:30pm?! Alright, alright, alright.
  • AUTOOOOO TIME!
  • Hot. Humid.
  • Is this Disney World? This can’t be real life.
  • New plan for future: Create an Auto in Mumbai Roller Coaster
  • Make millions.
  • “Stefan is here with us today to talk about activities the whole family can enjoy in Mumbai!”
  • –“Thx Seth, Mumbai’s hottest new club is Club 69. It’s got your Cupids, Miss India’s, padded walls, …”
  • Heh. Stefan. Heh.
  • Mark is the man. Everybody knows Mark.
  • Casually talking to the most influential casting director on the continent? Mmkay.
  • Oh. And this guy owns a production company? Mmkay.
  • OH THE TALENNTTTT!!
  • Keep it together, Sarah.
  • Time to show off those Bollywood dance moves!
  • Hah, we couldn’t look more American.
  • But no one knows us, #YOLO
  • I shouldn’t say #YOLO
  • I feel like we’re on Man vs. Food
  • You’re supposed to eat and swallow the whole thing?
  • Blegh. Am I eating incense or maybe an Indian hotel room?
  • Actually, yaknow, this is not too shabby.
  • AUTOOOO TIME!
  • Mmm yes, blurry pictures in the dark.
  • Water never felt so good oh mah lawwwdy.
  • Mmkay! Maybe I’ll upload the videos I took and edi–sleeeeeppp, zzz, zzz…

WOOO that was fun wasn’t it?! I hope that made some sense.  And if it didn’t, I guess now we both feel the same way.  The trip has just begun and I’m incredibly pumped to keep filling up all of these days with things that don’t make sense. #YOLO.

Ellen, I see your Selfie and raise you one Mumbai.

I’ve Got A Fever And The Only Prescription Is More India

I’m currently sitting outside on my back porch in Arlington, Virginia calmly listening to the downpour of rain onto this suburban terrain. The water comes in waves, pitter pattering, keeping time to natures cadence and then all of a sudden, overwhelming swells of rain pour quickly down to the ground.

Okay, don’t you worry, I’m not going to write like this for my whole blogging career. Can we call this trip to India a career? I don’t know. Point is, I will not bore you with pretension during my stay in India so I had to get it out now. Now that that’s over and done with, let’s move on!

I don’t think that text can convey how  INCREDIBLY EXCITED I am to begin the journey to a country that I have always been drawn to.  India has such a dense history and colorful culture and I’m so thrilled to have the opportunity to immerse myself in all that it has to offer.

I grew up in a household filled with international doodads and materialized memories from my parents vast history of travel around the world.  My parents would travel to many distant places and return with little bags and trinkets from their travels.  Eventually, I had enough coin purses and just wanted to travel the world for myself.

So now is the opportunity! This is the first time that I am going abroad as an independent adult (if I can even be qualified as one) and I am beyond ready to explore and discover a new corner of the Earth and just completely embrace the culture I’ve been craving for so long.

HERE ARE MY EMOTIONS because I can’t use words properly.