Reflections

Only a few days left in Mumbai! This trip has been a great start to my summer and I’m both really excited to get back home and so happy to have had the opportunity to be here.

 

What I Love About India

People
Everyone that I’ve interacted with at both the Whistling Woods International School and the SP Jain/Bhavan School mentoring program (Abhudaya), as well as the people at the Sai Palace Hotel, have all been so kind, welcoming and accommodating to our needs. They’ve also helped us to learn about Indian culture from varying perspectives and to speak a little bit of Hindi.

While working on the documentary film, my team and I visited the homes of some of the children in Abhudaya mentoring program. Even though their homes were small and their families didn’t have much, they let in three American girls with a camera and microphone to speak with them, not letting us go without offering some kind of drink or food. It has been overwhelming to see such genuine hospitality! I’ve met beautiful people while here in Mumbai.

Spirituality
I am not a religious person but I’ve been reflecting on my spirituality for the past year. I love how connected most people here seem to be to what’s important in life. Since I’ve been in high school, I’ve spent so much time focusing on the future instead of the present and now it’s all about getting an internship, a job, money, security and prestige as opposed to peace and internal happiness. I have so much more of the world to see and to understand, but thank you India for this introduction. It has been fascinating to see what different people value across the world.

Also, yoga has nothing to do spirituality. Me during out mandatory (ugh) yoga class = sleeping on the mat

What I Miss About Home
Cold water
Wearing shorts when its hot
Beef
Non-paneer cheese!
Clean feet
Clean air
Washers and dryers
Air conditioning
Autonomy

 

What I’ll Take Back Home
As I’ve been in India I’ve seen and have learned a bit about humanity. I had initially thought that the poorest of the poor live in slums in India but the truly poor live on the streets, on the highway, and wherever they can settle. Something I’ve always thought about how we have no say in how we come into this world. We don’t choose anything about the type of life we’re born into but we all have to make do. I’m going to strive to just make the best of any situation I’m put into, because there’s no room and no time for missed opportunities or wasted moments.

Advertisements

So, where in Africa are you from?

If I wasn’t already incredibly frustrated with the American media industry before coming to India, then I am now. I’m going to make a slight generalization here: Indians do not believe that black people live in America— although, black people (slaves) built America.

Let me break this down: people who do not live in America, mostly learn about America from mainstream American media*. I am, and I am not talking about people who are fortunate enough to travel to America.

Clear and simple, the lack of black and brown faces in American media— especially black faces in this case, claims that America is ‘white’ in ignoring people who are just as American as any white person, in that their ancestors played a huge role in building America, and their families had been living on American soil for hundreds of years.

Where does this come from? Hyphenated Americanism, the notion that black people act a certain way, the lack of color-blind casting in the television and film industries, the notion that films/TV shows with more than two black lead actors are only for black people, AND the very, very incorrect assumption that we live in a post-racial society.

Back to India— so, if people around the world are watching American television programs and films, and only white people are being shown on the screen (i.e., Friends), being portrayed as Americans… will people think that black people live in America?

A woman wrote Africa on my receipt, then proceeded to ask me: “Where in Africa are you from?” This jewelry boutique owner lived in Jersey for four years, but probably not in an area where a lot of black people live.

“Are you from South Africa or the West Indies? South Africa.” I wasn’t too offended by this cashier, but I also was because… why do I only have two options of origin— the W.I and Africa? I AM of West Indian descent and I love my culture, but I am American born. I don’t claim being American very much, if at all, but I do claim being a New Yorker.

“Are you from Nigeria?” I was expecting resistance or awe at the fact that I responded “No, I’m from New York,” but this rickshaw driver was well-travelled.

Earlier this year, Shonda Rhimes, the show-runner of two of my favorite television series, Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, won a diversity award from the Director’s Guild of America. This is what she said about it: “When I heard I was getting a Diversity Award, I was really, truly, profoundly honored. I began to get calls from VarietyThe Hollywood Reporter, etc., and I was asked to comment on the award. Asked how good I felt about the award. Asked if it made me feel like I was doing the right thing. Asked if it had been a struggle making diversity happen on my cast and crews. While I’m still really and truly profoundly honored to receive this award, but I was also a little pissed off.”

This speaks to the lack of, but growing amount of diversity in mainstream American media. There really shouldn’t have to be an award for diversity, and diversity shouldn’t have to be conscious, because well… we live in a diverse country but not every writer/filmmaker feels the need to portray that in a positive light if at all…

Fascinations with Whiteness

Coming to India, I knew the whole deal about colorism. What is colorism? Colorism is a phenomenon that causes people to preference and give privilege to, lighter/whiter-skinned people. Colorism is rooted in the idea that light or white skin is more beautiful than darker skin tones, and that attributes of kindness go hand in hand with that lighter or whiter skin.

So, there’s this whole thing about skin-bleaching that’s very popular in India and one or two West Indian countries, namely Jamaica. People want to be lighter because they think it’ll make their lives better— open doors for them, make them more attractive, etc. Then there’s skin-lightening in photography, the progression of Rihanna from #teambrownskin** to high yellow, Beyonce from #teambrownskin to #teamredbone.

For God’s sake, I was an entire shade lighter for the Bollywood music video shoot. Whitney, must’ve been three shades lighter— that night she was playing for #teamlightskin.

When we go to major stand-still areas (i.e. Juhu Beach, the Gate of India), some of my classmates always get asked to take a picture. Only once have I been asked to take a picture with someone. Based on the nature of what I am speaking about, it should go without saying that these classmates meet the stereotypical standards of beauty.

There is a fascination with whiteness in this country.

I am not in anyway speaking negatively of India or it’s people. Colorism exists in most places on this earth. There’s extreme colorism in the Caribbean, Brazil, America; any place where there are people of color. It’s something that isn’t really out there. It’s subtle, it has to be observe or noticed and it is a repercussion of colonialism.

In Morocco, I got marriage proposals and I was followed all of the time, because of my dark skin. In Europe, Italian men would always, somehow find me and compliment me on my skin. Skin color plays a different role everywhere in the world that you go, and colorism takes on different forms from country to country.

As I was writing this piece, I started to do some research and discovered that in India there is a lot of racism against Africans in this country. More specifically, Nigerians in particular, are heavily discriminated against by Indians, although millions of Indians live in Nigerian and less than 50,000 Nigerians live in India. I won’t really go into this much.

*When I use the term “media” I am referring to television programs and films.
** #teambrownskin, #teamdarksin, #teamlightskin, #teamredbone, and many other skin-color related hashtags are embodiments of colorism seen in the black community that have been given life via social media (mostly in America).

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about colorism, watch D. Chansin Berry’s documentary Dark Girls http://officialdarkgirlsmovie.com

LTOMD (Living the Life of My Dreams)

“Just remember what Christen said— How would you feel if someone came to your house and cried?”*

75% of my volunteer work has something to do with children and education. About 50% of that work is specifically focused on educating girls around the world.

In 2012, after about a year of work, I helped to bring an organization called She’s the First back to Syracuse University’s campus. My closest friend, Makaela Newsome and I worked to do two things with this organization: 1) educate our peers about the importance of girl’s education and, 2) raise money to send our sponsor Mbithe Pius to school in Kenya. Although I am not as involved with She’s the First as I have been in the past, I do work to promote the organization’s events and sometimes volunteer at She’s the First HQ in New York City.

Mumbai, India— In one of my previous blogposts I spoke a little bit about my desire to work with an NGO that focuses on girls’ education specifically. Mark, sadly broke all of my hopes and dreams by informing me that there was an organization like that, but we wouldn’t be working with them. However, Mark then introduced me to Abhyudaya, the NGO that I am now working to produce a documentary about.

In high school, one of my dreams was to become a documentary filmmaker that works work NGOs. This was dually the product of my work in Model UN and my desire to change the world through media. Working on this project is literally me living one of my many dreams.

Every documentary film that I’ve completed, to-date, has been an explorative film— with the exception of one. In this, I mean that I never want to leave my audience thinking one way. I simply open the doors to a topic for them, explore as many sides of the topic as possible, and leave the audience with their own conclusions. Since I have been doing documentary work since 10th grade, I do believe that I’ve grown in trying to achieve this effect. This film on Abhyudaya will be different.

The angle that we are taking in our film, focuses on the girl child. In many developing nations, girls come second because their parents prefer to educate the boy child first. Having a 50%+ participation of girl children as Sitaras, is a goal of Abhyudaya, as was described to us in the first meeting that we had with the NGO. Towards the end of the film we will tie in how the program empowers these girls to become greater than the traditional notion that girl children should not go to school.

Our project first started with a meeting with the students, their mentors, and faculty on Tuesday morning. On Wednesday we divided up into two groups. On Thursday we filmed most of our interviews and some b-roll. Sadly, on Friday I was feeling very unwell and was not able to make it to the school with my team.

I’ll be very honest when I say that this project has been difficult. There are too many modes of communication going on at once. In this, there have been communications problems and there has been a disconnect between us filmmakers and the NGO about the vision and purpose of our film. However, we are working through it and are confident that our film will be great.

On Saturday, Karoline and Erika will go to Abhyudaya’s graduation and get some more b-roll. In the afternoon we will wrap shooting with a visit to the slum areas where our two girl subjects live.

 

*Advice from my best friend on our visit to the slums on Saturday.

I shook my Lungi hard, I shook my Lungi hard AAAALLL NIIIIGHT!

Literally. Oh, what a night! We arrived at Whistling Woods for our shoot at about 4 PM on Friday, and we did not leave until 4 AM on Saturday. Right when we got there, we jumped into action, and Tyler and I got to work on the production design with Sabyasachi Bose, who had been assisting us the previous day. We went over locations and the props we hade picked out the day before. Then we drew up some designs for the layouts, and we began to see our fantasy start to become a reality.

Throughout the design process we could see the designs in our heads as they began to transform from a school courtyard to a fantastical new world. We finalized the plans and the information was sent off to the crew to prepare the sets while we rehearsed the dance for the shoot quickly approaching.

I tried not to sweat too much during rehearsal, as makeup and costuming was next, but that’s like telling a fish not to swim; it’s inevitable. After a quick dry-off and a “Bombay Burger,” we sat down to get our hair did, faces paints, and mustaches glued (oh yeah…that happened!). We put on our costumes, whipped out our stunning Newhouse shades (shameless plugin), and we were ready to shake our Lungis!

As we left the building and walked outside onto the sets, we saw our designs brought to life. It was exactly how we imagined it and it all sunk in that this was happening. The lights were set, the cameras were rolling, the music was playing, and we forgot the steps. I’m not sure it was nerves, the break, the fumes from the spirit glue or all of the above, but what I do know is that all of our minds went blank. We stopped the music, reviewed some things, shook it all off, and tried again. The lights were set, the cameras were rolling, the music was playing, and we danced… oh… we DANCED!

***Click on following links for music references. Warning: explicit lyrics***

We shook our Lungis to the left, to the left, as if everything we owned was shaken in a Lungi to the left. Our Lungis hung low, they wobbled to the flo‘, as we shook them from the windows to the wall as the sweat dropped down our… Bollywood… We called upon all the Rajini fans, who did not want to miss their chance. And we did, the LUNGI DANCE! All without dropping that thun thun thun, AY! *Mic Drop*

The whole experience was like nothing I have ever experienced and probably like nothing I will ever experience again. In 3 days we learned a full song with a type of dance we had never been exposed to before, came up with a design, and shot a whole Bollywood item number. It was amazing how invested in us and this project the staff and crew of Whistling Woods was They went above and beyond and pulled every trick, aside from the rain machine which posed a health risk but it was very, very tempting…

The night of the shoot was exciting, exhausting, nerve-wracking, stressful, and incredible. I cannot wait to see the final product, and hoping it goes viral. Who knows, maybe Tosh.O will pick it up for redemption and we can go to LA to do it all again! We left our Lungis on the dance floor that night, but it was only just the beginning of the weekend.

After getting back to the hotel at about 4:30 AM, I washed off the work, and passed out until just before noon. Saturday was our relaxation/recovery day. A few of us went to a market with Mark, where we drank fresh coconut water right out of the coconut and ate the meat carved out in front of us. We then returned to the hotel for more relaxation, but that night was anything but relaxing.

We journeyed to “Town” where we ate and saw a comedy show at Blue Frog Comedy Club. The comedy show let us experience more of the culture of Mumbai in a comedic manner. While some jokes were lost due to contexts we had never been exposed to, the show was very fun and I had a great time. However, after the show the tables were cleared, music started playing, and for the second night in a row we danced the night away, but we left our Lungis at the hotel. It was another successful night and again I passed out exhausted, but quite a bit earlier than 5 AM.

After finally almost getting caught up on my sleep, we set out to Juhu Beach where I tried some refreshing pistachio falooda while successfully avoiding getting sunburned. We then went to Bandra to Mark’s favorite store, Fabindia, to get some authentic Indian swag where we met is friend Aditi. After dropping some rupees, we headed over to Candies for some dinner where I had ended the meal with some awesome passion fruit cheesecake.

We took a little star house tour and passed by Anil Kapoor’s (Slumdog Millionaire and 24), Shahrukh Khan’s, and Salman Khan’s houses. Then we walked around some, coming across a Marati wedding procession, and ending the night with a little more shopping at Hill Road.It was by far the busiest time we have had in India yet and an awesome experience. I look forward to what the next couple of weeks have in store for us!

Entry 05: The Magic School Bus Takes Us Places

Location: Sai Palace Hotel Room
25 May 2014 10:31pm

Yo. The word “day off” means absolutely nothing here. And that’s not a bad thing.
12 people are blogging at the same time about things we do, so hopefully if I skip over anything you can just read someone else’s take on it.
AUGH. Again, SO much is continually just HAPPENING. I wish I could write a higher quality blog post right now but time is fleeting so I’ll just fill you in on some details.

-We finished our beautiful Lungi Dance Bollywood shoot at Whistling Woods at 2ish 3ish am. It was a magical experience. Honestly. There are really no words to describe it. The energy in the air was full of determination, passion, smiles, laughter, but we were also on task, focused, and ready to go. It was everything a set should be and could be, and I look forward to experiencing and creating that magic once again someday.

Image

Sanjeev is an amazing director and choreographer; Som (Somnath Sen) was an awesome producer/director also; and our DP (who unfortunately, did not catch his name but hopefully can edit this and insert it here) was totally rad. Sanjeev is in the blue shirt (those Western boots doe), Som is on the far right, and the DP is in motion behind Som. Yo, all of us agree the the DP was incredibly cool. He had this sort of hippie-chic vibe and was very chill and his outfit was fantastic. Wayne aspires to be like him someday. I believe in him.

Couple more photos for context:

ImageImage

 

Yeah. That happened last night, from 6pm to 3am.

-Then we rested up all day, and went to Blue Frog the next evening to watch some world-class Hindi comedy stand up artists. Gotta give props to Mark E Mark, it was a very cool experience. Blue Frog is a world class classy-hip-modern-chic club. The comedians spoke in English but would occasionally switch over to Hindi. Despite the fact that we didn’t always understand the jokes, just hearing everyone else laugh made me laugh. It was fascinating also that some jokes would start in English and the punchline would be in Hindi, but we’d still be able to laugh along because of the context. We especially understood the jokes about rickshaws and “white people who come to India to find themselves.” The comedians were on point and funny, and (of course) the final comedian is Mark’s friend (ok we all accept the fact that Mark is a lowkey celebrity in Mumbai).

Image

 

And all that was yesterday…today was magical. Every day is magical. We went to Juhu beach and I got a Mango Kulfi Rabdi Falooda from my buddy Adi.

Image

 

Talking to him was one of the highlights of my day: he’s a 12th year student studying commerce. I was eavesdropping on his conversation with Mark (I was wearing sunglasses so I was being sneaky) and Mark said something like “us Americans, huh?” because we were being typical Americans and taking pictures and standing in the way of traffic. But he was like “Naw, you are guests in our country.” And I was like woah.
While we got a ton of curious stares and crowds following us at the beach, and some people even asked to take pictures with us, that statement made me realize just how accepting they are. Here you can just accept and be let in. In America, in so many different contexts we have to fight for our identities and fight to be recognized. From what India has shown me, just being who you are is enough.

Food for thought: Adi seemed sort of annoyed at his own people (as behind us, other Indians were taking photos of and with Wayne and Erika behind me and totally fangirling over them) and said he wanted to go to the US. We were like, “Why?” and he said something along the lines of here, people don’t think very high of themselves. I don’t want to take what he said out of context, but whatever he said it was something like they don’t aspire to be more than they are.

I asked him where in the US he wanted to visit and he said New York, and that he has a friend living there.

More interesting analyzation: he was a little confused when I asked him where in the United States he wanted to visit, and he also didn’t know where/what the Philippines was. Adi also told me that “Asia” to most Indians is just China or Japan (which explains why he didn’t know what the Philippines was). Veronica also asked some people at the Bollywood shoot if they knew where Puerto Rico was, and they were utterly confused.

I am reminded that India is a country of 1.2 billion people and the USA is only 300 million people, but we have so much influence that people who don’t know much about the US still want to move there. The view of the US from India is probably just NYC and all our Top 40 music (Kanye, Beyonce, Katy Perry, etc. etc.) because somehow at Blue Frog the night before, they knew more lyrics to Kanye West songs than I did. Though I only know the lyrics to like 2-3 Kanye songs anyways.

We’re so cynical and think we have so many internal issues but in a global sense, we’re still seen as the country of freedom and that everyone lives the high life in America. Hmm.

Image

I touched the Arabian Sea. Woot.

-Then, we went to FabIndia to get us some quality Indian garb. I ended up purchasing souvenirs for people instead of buying clothes for myself…hopefully I’ll find stuff that catches my eye. I want to purchase at least 1 full outfit of traditional Indian garb before I leave.

We take our magic yellow schoolbus to Candies, this incredibly posh place in Bhandra that Mark knows. It was the bomb dot com and had so many levels (we ate on the top floor!)

ImageIMG_20140525_171837 IMG_20140525_172006

-We drive around Bhandra for a bit (our driver got lost) and then also drive past famous actor’s houses, including Shahrukh Khan’s house. People stand outside these houses day and night, hoping to get a glimpse of these glamorous stars…

ImageImage

 

Not to mention that James Franco made an appearance but didn’t want any autographs. Luckily I got a good paparazzi photo of him!

Image

Moving along, we walk through beautiful Bhandra…see the place where Mark and his wife Taapsi used to live (didn’t photograph it though)…jump into the celebration of an Indian wedding (the story: music and dance on the street. Fascination, we go to watch. Like tourists, we take out our cameras. Mark goes to dance with them. One of the celebrators comes up to me, says “come dance!” takes my hand, and I follow. It was a joyous 15 minutes or so of all us dancing among these smiling, laughing, and gleeful Indian people celebrating a wedding. Just one of those total Kodak moments.)

ImageImage

ImageImage

-random note: the graffiti art is astounding.

Image Image

-Like the democratic people we are we vote to go back home because we’re dead tired…until we see a bunch of night shops—Clothes! Brand names! Shiny things! Our inner consumerist awakens and Mark stops the bus, tells us, “30 minutes! GO!” and we scatter forth like ants into the great unknown of colorful fancies. Aaron and I haggled on the street for some rad bags, I got me some shoes, bangles, anklets. When we hopped back on the bus, we let Mark know: WE HAVE TO COME BACK HERE. “It will be done,” said Mark. (note: he didn’t actually say that, it was something like that).

-Now we’re here chillin’ in our air-conditioned hotel.

Woooooooh. For the record, I know my grammar and syntax are terrible (Professor Deppa might have a stroke if she read this blog post) but yo dawg it’s a blog so just accept it. I passed COM 101 last year so that’s all that matters.

 

‘Til Next Time,

Losa

Sweating Through Life

One of the greatest elements of Bollywood cinema is the songs within the films, and this we were to be able to be a part of this great tradition by filming one of our own, starring us! We were given three days to put everything together, with the help of the Whistling Woods International faculty, and it has been an intense couple of days leading up to the shoot that takes place tonight, 6 PM – 6 AM. Before this, the only experience most of us had with Bollywood dance was the quick workshop last Sunday so we didn’t really know what we were doing. On Wednesday, we had a 4-5 hour rehearsal of just intense Bollywood dancing and learned the entire song. Needless to say, we were exhausted, and I was drenched in sweat. The next day we met the production designer, saw the locations, and began picking out props, set pieces, and costumes. Then after lunch, it was back to the dancing with another long rehearsal, even more intense than the first. During this we polished what we already knew, changed some things, added some parts, and rehearsed with the four professional dancers who would be dancing with us. I don’t think I had ever sweat so much in my life! Who knew dancing to fast Bollywood song for 5 straight hours would be so exhausting? Now tonight is the shoot so today we rest up before going in for a final rehearsal, costuming, and makeup. While we aren’t professionals, it’s been a lot of fun, and I’m really looking forward to the shoot and final product.

First 48 Hours in the City of Rubble

The flight to India went far better than expected, and was much easier than many of my flights to and from school. With watching four on-flight movies, two airplane meals, and a nap, the time seemed to fly by, and next thing I knew we were in Mumbai! The airport was brand new and very beautiful, a nice welcome to India. Our chaperone, photographer Mark Bennington, told us that he calls Mumbai “the City of Rubble,” and I soon found out why.

Our first real Indian experience that I think finally made it sink in that we had actually made it was driving from the airport to the hotel. Back in the states you hear stories about the streets and crowds due to the high population of the city, but until you experience it, there is no way to fully grasp the reality of it. Driving in Mumbai is the epitome of organized chaos. With a combination of cars, rickshaws or “autos,” bikes, motorcycles, trucks, busses, and people, everyone is driving around each other, honking their horns non-stop to let them know they’re there, crossing traffic like they’re playing Frogger, and with no set lanes, people are cutting into whatever space they can find, especially the autos and bikes. Many of us were relieved we made it to the hotel, and after settling in and having a quick bite to eat, we retired to our rooms to rest-up before our first day in Mumbai.

In the room we decided to watch a movie, and noticed before each film that contains smoking/tobacco, there was a disclaimer stating that the actors or producers do not condone smoking and that it kills. Then every time smoking was portrayed, “smoking/tobacco kills” appeared on the screen, which I found very interesting and unexpected as I thought smoking was somewhat popular in India. On the same subject, they are equally against texting, talking, and drinking while driving which is very understandable given the chaos they must drive through.

After a delicious Indian breakfast at the hotel, we were ready to begin our journey and head to Whistling Woods International, where we will be studying for the next three weeks, for their “Celebrating Cinema” event. It was on the ride over when we could fully see Mumbai that I could see why Mark called it the City of Rubble; it truly is a city of rubble! With some tall buildings and many very short ones, there was rubble and trash throughout the streets as if from all this rubble, a city had been erected and the people grew with it. We have yet to see the downtown area, known as “the town,” but from what I can see already is the essence of India throughout, a mixture of the buildings and people, like within the food and cinema. I remember Professor Hallas saying that each Bollywood film must be like the food Masala as in it has “the right mix or spices” or “the right mix of emotion throughout the film,” as in the Navrasa (9 emotions in theater), and I see this translated into the actual city.

The first 48 hours in the City of Rubble was a lot to take in, and without warning we were thrown into the middle of it all. Within two days we experienced the culture, food, market shopping, and met some of the most powerful people in the industry. Beginning our day at Whistling Woods, we watched a documentary celebrating the last 100 years in Bollywood cinema, toured the facilities, and took our first Bollywood dance class, but it certainly won’t be our last! That night we took our first autos ride, which was an experience in itself, to a “sundowner dance party” at Villa 69 in Juhu. In our first night in Mumbai we had the chance to experience a little bit of the nightlife the locals partake in, and there we met Mark’s friend Shanoo Sharma who is the casting director for Yash Raj Films and the “biggest and most important casting director in Bollywood.” It was great to be able to sit and talk with such a powerful person in a huge industry while just eating some food. On our way back to the hotel, some of us brave souls tried paan, an after dinner digestive, and it has become a goal of mine to be able to properly eat it by the time we leave.

Monday has been our busiest and most exciting day yet, beginning when we walked out the door and felt the heat and humidity that takes over during this time of the year as the monsoon season approaches. We had the chance to shop at Lokhandwala Market where I bought a very nice gold and white kurat, which was one of the things I wanted to be sure to bring back with me. We met Priya Kumar, another friend of Mark, for lunch at High Point where we each got to try sav puri, pala paneer, yellow and black daal with naan and roti, samosa, and mango kulfi. We then met Anurag Kashyap, Hindi film director, and Harish Amin, line-producer, at Aram Nagar in Versova. Before heading back to the hotel, we wrapped up the day at Tribal Route, which had all sorts of unique trinkets, and other items where I managed to get a couple things.

It has been an exciting first couple of days, and I know it’s only going to get even more exciting! Let’s just hope it get just a little bit cooler. Thank you for reading and please come back to read more of what we are doing in Mumbai, India!