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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

Winning Moves

It is easy to see why Ankita Roy does so well at chess. She talks less and thinks more. In fact I began feeling a trifle intellectually challenged asking the two-time California state chess champion (in her age category) all about her interest in chess, and what made her take up the game.

The answer she gave is simple: “I want to be like my dad.” Ankita chanced upon her father arranging newspaper cuttings of him winning chess championships in India, when she decided she wanted to play that game and be like him. That was four years ago. Today, at 9, the many-time chess champion shares an almost daily game with her father Sujay Roy who was twice national champion representing the state of Bihar in India. In fact, he is her final challenge, she says, because she has yet to beat him at a game.
Ankita recently won the California State Chess Championships and advanced to play for the national title at the National Scholastic Chess Championship in Portland in April. The state-level competition featured some 1,100 participants. “She is the only girl to have won the state-level tournament in California in 26 years!” says dad proudly.

How does she plot to fell her opponent? “I start with the lowest piece on the board, and think about it from there. I think about the best move for my opponent, and what move I should make.” So, you chart out all these moves in your head. Don’t you forget them? “No!” she replies almost sounding surprised at the inanity of my suggestion.

Ankita practices by playing against her father, and by playing once a week at the chess club at Weibel Elementary School in Fremont where she is a third-grader. “I feel very proud when I win a championship,” she says simply.

Fresh Footage

Everyone has been a child. That is why you should watch Birju,” says Heeraz Marfatia when asked about his first film with a 4-year-old wide-eyed boy, Birju, as its lead cast. “The film explores childhood and what one sees when one is a kid,” explains Marfatia.

The film undoubtedly does a terrific job of exploring the theme. Why else would it be selected and screened at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival as well as the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival held earlier this year.

“After Sundance, it was like a meteor hitting me … it just propelled everything,” says Marfatia, who has worked hard to get his spot in the sun. “It was my first movie … it was important to make a good enough film to get a bigger, better, job,” he says. Currently a student at SFSU on an educational grant from a trust in India, finances were tight. Marfatia reached out to contacts in Bombay and friends … and he was able to assemble a crew; Kodak agreed to contribute film; and filmmakers like Shyam Benegal, Subhash Ghai, and Vidhu Vinod Chopra chipped in with leftover film stock. The final challenge was finding Birju and getting him to act—he chanced upon Vijju (who plays the part of Birju) a week before the actual shoot began.

“I went with my impulse without worrying how Birju would be received … very rarely in life do you get total control of a movie. This was one chance to get creative control,” says Marfatia who scripted, directed, and produced the film.

“To keep making films all my life is what I would consider a major achievement,” believes Marfatia who grew up around films in Ajmer where his father and grandfather own cinemas. He is already working on a script for his next film, which he says deals with the darker side of life and death.

For the Love of Dance

There were around 55 applicants. Eighteen were awarded a grant. And Trisha Banerjee and her teacher Ramya Harishankar of Arpana Dance Company were among those who took home $2,500 to apply toward intensive learning in bharata natyam.

The recognition comes from the California Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, a project of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA), funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council. The grants support a period of intensive learning for individuals who have shown a commitment to, and a talent for a specific artistic tradition. The money is awarded to a teacher-apprentice team whose eligibility is determined based on slides, photos, cassette tapes, video tapes, newspaper articles, or other materials that demonstrate the artistic quality and traditionality of the master artist’s and apprentice’s work.

Banerjee is no newcomer to the performing arts—since the age of 3, she has been participating in community dances at various events. However, it was bharata natyam that took her breath away. “I went to an arangetram in 1993 and was so inspired by it that I decided to learn bharata natyam … not odissi, not kathak, but bharata natyam,” she says passionately of the art she has been learning with much devotion for the past seven years.

Appreciation for talent apart, Banerjee says that the grant will allow her to keep pursuing what she enjoys most. “I really wanted the grant because private lessons are very expensive … I will now be able to apply $2,000 of the award toward dance tuition,” she says. More specifically, it will allow her to undergo requisite training to perform a Margam, a repertoire of seven items to be performed as a full-length solo performance of two hours.

Although Banerjee hasn’t outlined any concrete future plans, she is sure of one thing—that bharata natyam definitely figures in it.