Monday, 30 June 2008

Punjabi women in vogue

Trinh T Minh-ha writes in Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism:
"'Wo-' appended to 'man' in sexist contexts is not unlike 'Third World', 'Third', 'minority', or 'color' affixed to woman in pseudo-feminist contexts. Yearning for universality, the generic 'woman', like its counterpart, the generic 'man' tends to efface difference within itself...'All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us are Brave' is the title given to an anthology edited by Gloria T Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith...'Third World', therefore, belongs to a category apart, a 'special' one that is meant to be both complimentary and complementary, for First and Second went out of fashion, leaving a serious Lack behind to be filled".

Does the 'special' status currently bestowed upon 'Third World' sufficiently explain why formerly rustic and primitive traditions (in the Eurocentric mind that is) like those of Indian writing and film are now considered chic, and not merely exotic? Does it also justify the growing popularity of Bollywood amongst mainstream and arthouse audiences in the west? And finally, what is with the trio of fiery Punjabi women - Deepa Mehta, Mira Nair and Gurinder Chadha, residing in the diaspora and effortlessly embracing the cosmopolitanism accrued from making 'crossover' films?

I wonder if diasporic Indian men or non-Punjabi women would make the same kind of films, or would make films in the first place. I would like to think that the 'Mehta-Nair-Chadha phenomenon' is a mere coincidence. But it doesn't help that I am Punjabi too. And female. I'm trying to make a film. And negotiate my diasporic identity.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

I Journey like a Paisley

Are you an Indian Student, or an Indian-born Migrant?

Do you enjoy talking about India with your friends, family and strangers?

Would you like to share your story on film with the rest of the world?

Monday, 23 June 2008

Conquering the Quarterlife Crisis (Aut. Alexandra Robbins)

I remember being surprisingly relieved when the ever-cooing Sarah Jessica Parker, while promoting 'Sex and the City: The Movie' on Oprah, uttered a sensible sentence - "Your 20s are a search, your 30s are for learning lessons, and your 40s are when you finally know who you are". Now, the surprise is understandable, but what about my sense of relief? What can a 20-something pursuing a PhD, holding a part-time tutoring position, producing her own documentary, and enjoying a decent social life possibly have to complain about?

The last rendezvous with my parents in India and their insistence on 'settling down', the current spate of friends pairing up, the overwhelming feeling of being 'stuck' in Adelaide since travelling overseas, the intensive self-questioning of my personal and career goals, the doubts relating to the 'job value' of a doctorate, the pain of rejection, and the humility resulting from all of these experiences has made me realise that I am exhibiting symptoms of what is now commonly known as the 'Quarterlife Crisis'. After spending months whining about this to close friends, I have decided it is time to share my thoughts, because as I discovered in the above book, this crisis may sound trivial to those of an older generation, it is very real for people in their mid to late 20s (even early 30s), and is a rather ubiquitous phenomenon. So, if you find yourself directionless and reflective at a stage of life when societal norms tell you to be carefree and exhuberant, you are not alone!

Not one for therapy or anti-depressants, I resorted to my love of reading to get through this rough patch. When chancing upon Robbins' book in the local community library, I was admittedly sceptical about what a self-help manual could offer. Again, I was surprised because the book covers some basic questions and scenarios, with each chapter beginning with a crisis faced by a 20-something, and ending with advice offered by mentors who are only slightly older and have already been through the Quarterlife crucible and survived. They also offer a range of exercises, like listing out the activities you enjoyed in your childhood, to get you back on track. This one especially worked for me as it opened my eyes to the fact that my creative streak has always presided over my intellect - that despite being a teacher's pet, what really got me going as a pre-teen were hobbies that involved some form of visual art, be it sketching classes, glass painting, flower making, embroidery, sowing doll's clothes, creating paper mache objects etc. With this lucid realisation, I went to the Spotlight store in the city and bought a few essential beading tools. I have now been making jewellery for a couple of weeks, thereby transforming all my erstwhile negative energy and curbing the tendency to compare my situation to other people. Miscellaneous steps, like listening to upbeat music, walking for at least half an hour a day, and following my instinct with regards to the most basic of decisions, also seem to be helping.

Instead of paraphrasing the advice offered by Robbins and the mentors, I will quote them directly below, in the hope that it has more impact. Enjoy! And remember - if you counter this crisis, there may not be a mid-life crisis at all.

On finding your Passion in life:
"Your passion is what happens in the process of you becoming you" (Viola Nelson, 33, Mentor).

On looking for The One:
"I wish I'd known at 23 that you should look for happiness in life itself, not just in another person" (Andro Hsu, 27, Mentor).

On having a Timeline:
"What if you don't get married by 30? So what? What if you haven't paid off your loans or debt by 35? So what? What if you're not a stand-out success by 28? So what? If you were to achieve everything by the age of 30, then what would you do for the next fifty years?" (Robbins).

On searching for an Identity:
"At some point in your life - you are going to have to face yourself and confront your identity - stripped down, vulnerable, and shed of protective layers like material goods, advanced degrees, and the pressures and expectations you've internalised. You are Alice leaping through the looking glass" (Robbins).

On confronting Adulthood:
"One's character is truly shown in dealing with the random monkey wrenches thrown into our plans and how one accepts the finitude of life, career, and relationships. Adulthood, then, consists in knowing that I'm not the one really in control of events, but I'm in control of my reaction to them" (Jake Dixon, 37, Mentor).

I'm Beading Again

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

The Shivering Leaf

Did you notice
the light climb up the tree trunk
the notes drifted in
from the nearby conservatorium
the eucalyptus plate reflected
the image of
the shivering leaf
was a testimony to fragility
in the texture of roughness.

Future Memories

I remember the Future
That you have forgotten
Because you are oblivious to
The sounds
The sights 
The very mechanics
Of your own body clock.

It may not be anatomy
Or science fiction
Or future noir.
But it is my memory
That I want to be ours
Because it plays in my mind
Like clockwork
Like history
Like the certitude of time.

Bollywood and Kitsch

After more than a year of researching Indian Cinema (including commercial, art-house, diasporic, independent, and the unnameable kind), I have come to the conclusion that most mainstream and some academic writing about this 'exotic' industry still embraces an orientalist discourse. In other words, more often that not, the richly-coloured visuals and the dramatic chords that make up this cinema are often equated with 'kitsch', or low art, as opposed to the production techniques and content of Hollywood films that are naturally assumed to be superior. A case in point is this section on the website of the British Film Institute that lists a selection of works on South Asian Cinema, most of which use the graphic exoticism of commercial Bollywood on the book covers, probably for sales purposes. But who are these books being sold to? Certainly not 'native' Indians. The likely audience for such elaborations on South Asian cinematic techniques and aesthetics is those of us living in the west who may be fascinated by these films, drawn to them or to the originating culture for a wide variety of reasons. 

I am reminded of an animated conversation I had with a South African tourist during my last visit to India in December 2007. Although the flight from New Delhi to my hometown of Jammu was only an hour or so, we managed to discuss the intricacies of Indian cinema and why it appealed to a certain kind of western soul. This financial advisor, proceeding to Srinagar for a ski trip, reckoned that Bollywood was special in his eyes because it was 'spiritual'. He added that he rarely felt a similar soulful connection with the psychological thrillers churned out by Hollywood. I would like to think this well-travelled man had no need to be patronising towards India and Indians when talking to me, a self-confessed Bollywood researcher who is not a Bollywood devotee. Did he embrace a point of view that is simultaneously western and non-orientalist? Can Indian Cinema, then, be a beacon of spirituality as well as a symbol of kitsch? Perhaps it depends on where you are and how you feel.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Sex and the City: The Movie (Dir. Michael Patrick King)

The following is an effusive film review/a willing suspension of analysis:

I dedicate this to all my girls, but especially Kasumi, Puja and Poppi. Thanks for watching the 'Sex and the City' TV series and countless good and bad films with me through the last few years. Thanks for listening to my endless rants about academia, Adelaide, identity crises, incomprehensible men, caffeine addiction and life in general.

How do I respond to a film that is carrying the anticipation of a large proportion of women in the Western world on its designer shoulders? It is not that I feel inadequate, or incapable of writing a review that will do justice. I'm simply too moved to pen down an objective critique, to analyse the plot and storyline, to comment on the acting, to pull apart the visuals and sounds that make up this film. The academic/critic/filmmaker wants to take a back seat and just let the woman in me be.

As the credits rolled, I thought the film did not have the 'spark' of the TV series. However, a few scenes later, as I looked at Carrie's swollen, mascara-less eyes at a resort in Mexico, my glasses came off. And so did my pride, for I can't recall the last occasion I shed a tear in a cinema hall. The waterworks continued way past the cancelled wedding and honeymoon. I sailed in their murky ocean during Carrie and Miranda's lonely New Year's eve and Valentine's Day, and pushed them back with welcome laughter through Samantha's LA adventures. Charlotte remained a beacon of hope throughout, and the perfection of her new family life seemed surprisingly credible.

For SATC fans who read this before watching the movie - I will not spoil your experience by answering the ever-looming question regarding Carrie and Big's future together. Despite my recent predisposition towards films with 'closure', in this case, I just had blinkers on. As they say - stop wishing and you'll be surprised.