Monday, 15 December 2008

Re-imaging, Re-imagining

I have been wondering of late if I was 'meant' to be a writer, and if my recent foray into the world of filmmaking and cinema theory is a broadening of my creative interests, or if I'm simply losing focus. Then I began reading Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, and after only about twenty-five pages, have a new-found appreciation of writing for all kinds of artists, and of the image for all sorts of writers.

What I am doing these days is a lot of blogging, writing for my personal journal and thesis, but also creating a scrapbook of memories to include as the opening sequence in my documentary. I have so far shied away from images of myself in the film, but now realise that this is crucial to tell a story that is both honest and poetic. Such a re-imaging of the past in the present, then, is a re-imagining of the journey that me and others like me interviewed in the documentary have undertaken. Why do we need to re-image and re-imagine our private and collective stories? Perhaps the desired effect is a refraction of my/our experiences, a re-contextualisation rather than a de-territorialisation. The originary place of our socio-cultural milieu may be geographically removed, but it continues to be reinvented in the new spaces that our bodies and minds now inhabit.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Diaspora and Dispersal

I have nearly finished interviewing people for my documentary titled, I Journey Like a Paisley, and am now well on my way to editing it into a coherent piece of cinema that articulates the Indian-Australian experience through my individualised artistic lens. What have I learned from these interviews that is different from my academic research into diaspora theory and cultural practice? Is there a single, unequivocal message? Who is my audience? Why am I passionate about this story?

Perhaps what I have to acknowledge first and foremost is that it is indeed my own experience of living away from the land of my birth (an experience that is gradually acquiring diasporic undertones) which has fuelled my interest in diasporic narrative(s). But an old feeling tells me I was curious about diasporic writers, filmmakers and members of my extended family living abroad even when I was 'wholly Indian'. Why did the Deepa Mehtas and Mira Nairs always haunt my dreams and linger on the horizons of my imagination? A worshipper of Arundhati Roy's brand of writerly-activism in my teenage years, I was still more puzzled by the likes of Salman Rushdie, and continue to be fascinated by his amalgamation of recklessness and wisdom. Reading his book of essays called Imaginary Homelands while undertaking a third-year university course on world literature, I figured I was always drawn to the idea of home(s) away from home(s), probably destined to wander.

Wandering reminds me of a story my grandmother told me on my last trip to India. Always keeping me up-to-date on Sikh folklore, she said that once Guru Nanak went with one of his disciples to a village where the locals treated him indifferently. On his way out, he wished the villagers well, saying may they stay here and prosper. In the next village he visited, he was showered with respect and gratitude. This time, he wished the villagers left their abode and dispersed. The perplexed disciple was told that the latter set of villagers were good-at-heart, and hence it was better for the world if they wandered around and shared their spirit. The former village folk, on the contrary, were better off staying put and not polluting others' with their negativity.

And thus, I believe wandering spirits have a higher purpose. Sometimes, however, evidence of extremism or frozen cultural practices amongst those living in the diaspora (Indian and others) questions my faith in the liberalism of transnational populations. Aren't there bad apples everywhere though? While academia tell me that diasporic citizens are merely 'complex', one of my interviewees proclaims himself a 'confused desi'. What do I think/feel? The path becomes less muddled as time passes - choices are made both consciously and sub-consciously, accents are shed and acquired in context, clothes and jewellery learn to make adjustments. Hence, I have come to view the diasporic experience as an ongoing negotiation rather than a confusion of values or a complexity of heritage. It is a process of self-discovery, creative-expression and knowledge-sharing that is as enriching as enlightenment itself, provided you do not succumb to the pitfalls of nostalgia for the motherland, contempt for anything ostensibly foreign, or an uncritical attitude towards the economic and social advantages of the new society. This is my message of hope from the diaspora, but it is for everyone. The message is not new, but I/we have travelled far and wide to disperse it. The stories of our diasporic lives are a testament to this dispersal of humanity, of universal values, of cross-cultural sharing (not just understanding or co-existence).

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Slumdog Millionaire (Dir. Danny Boyle)

There was a whole lot of Gen Y jargon occupying my headspace as I sat down to watch a preview session of this internationally-acclaimed co-production. My mind was a mish-mash of emotions and questions, more real that usual because I was on the brink of a decision. Am I, a tertiary-educated, well-travelled, career and family-oriented 20-something woman making the right choice(s)?

And then I was confronted by the image of a boy in the slums of Mumbai, covered in shit (there isn't a sophisticated way of putting it), and sprinting to get an autograph of Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan. This image was disgusting and endearing at the same time and set the tone for the rest of the film - about rags and riches, money and love, God and death, tourist and native, class and power, violence and envy. There are countless movies of all genres in the market on the above themes, but what sets Slumdog Millionaire apart is its unabashed representation of the most gory details of poverty and its accompanying ills. Thus, my dilemmas began to dissipate in the grime and sheer reality of the streets of Mumbai. The director invited me to take up the point of view of his three musketeers - Salim, his brother Jamal, and Jamal's sweetheart Latika, so I accepted the invitation.

The part of the film I enjoyed the most was the orphaned brothers' adventures through India - riding on trains and hanging off the roof of one to steal a passenger's chappati through a window, inventing novel ways of making money by stealing shoes and embezzling foreign tourists at the Taj Mahal, working in local restaurants and re-filling old mineral water bottles. Needless to say, one had no choice but to surrender western notions of morality to empathise with the boys and applaud their ingenuity. However, morality of all kinds was put under a cloud when Salim, by then an adolescent, decided to have Latika to himself after rescuing her from the hands of her evil benefactor who he shot, and subsequently throwing his naive younger brother Jamal out of the hotel room where the trio were putting up. Betrayal of blood, of family! What do we do now? We stood by Jamal as his 18-year old self alternatively sat in a police officer's chair and the contestant's seat on India's 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?' and flashed back to the confronting stories of his past. Did he win the coveted prize money? Was he even after the money? What about Latika? Why was he being questioned by a cop? What was his destiny?

I will deliberately leave the aforementioned questions unanswered so your curiosity bones are tickled and you have adequate motivation to go watch the film when it is officially released in Australia on 18 December. All I can say is that I liked it probably because it is a film of this generation - not overtly stylistic like a Deepa Mehta or Mira Nair work, not escapist like most of commercial Hollywood and Bollywood, and not pretentiously cerebral like some art cinema. Slumdog Millionaire is an in-your-face and on-your-skin kind of film - let it in or leave it out!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


I find myself tossing between extremes
A meditation retreat and a holiday in Sydney
A treatise on film and experiential cinema
A spiritual read and a style magazine
A physical craving and emotional detachment.

But are they really so dialectical
If they are present in me 
And assert themselves 
With equal vigour?

Perhaps I don't toss
But flow.

Tide over
Tide out
Double up
Cross over