Tag Archives: documentary

Female Feticide in America?

Female feticide is common in India and surrounding countries. I was very surprised when a gynecologist in California told me that it is practiced by South Asians in many parts of America as well. She mentioned that when an Indian patient finds out that the fetus is female, the likelihood of aborting the pregnancy is very high, even higher if this is a woman’s second or third female child. 

I spoke to several other gynecologists who relayed similar experiences.

One gynecologist told me that he offered sex selection through IVF as an alternative to abortion but the patient’s family was not willing to bear the expense, even if they could afford it. They did not care that the wife/daughter-in-law was having to go through several traumatizing abortions. Another ObGyn said that she was afraid to do an ultrasound on her patient for fear that it would be a female fetus. She said that sometimes she would make an excuse or stall until the next check-up.

The reasons given by patients and families for their preference of a male child are the same everywhere – the boy will continue the family name, he will take care of the family business and his aging parents, and most importantly, a man is not masculine enough if he cannot father a son.

As a writer and storyteller, I knew I had to tell this story. How we conveniently do certain things under the guise of culture, tradition, and customs. Normalization and rationalization of unreasonable behavior are often justified as tradition. 

As a woman and a mother of daughters, I believe that women should have the power to make decisions about their own bodies and to speak up for themselves. I wrote and produced the short film ‘Unborn’ to convey this message to all women of the world. If one woman, one husband, one family sees this film and a female child is given a chance to survive and ultimately thrive, then this film has done its job!

Directed by Jaswant Shrestha, the film stars the talented actors Ayushi Chhabra, Sumeet Dang, and Rashmi Rustagi. It has won several awards at many film festivals including Best Short Film, Best Actress for Ayushi Chhabra, and Best Supporting Actress for Rashmi Rustagi. 

Unborn is now streaming on Amazon Prime.


Rashmi Rustagi is an actor, writer, producer, and food blogger. She has pursued acting from a very young age, starting out as a radio actor in All India Radio plays in Lucknow, India. She performed in several theatre productions while living in the Bay Area and is currently a film and television actor in Hollywood. 

Ajjibaichi Shaala: Let’s Go to Grandmother’s School!

“With a roar, rise, and fight for your right to education.

Breaking the chains of tradition, go get an education.”

– Savitribai Phule

India’s first school for girls was started in Pune, Maharashtra, by Savitribai Phule – a woman who spearheaded the movement for female education in India.  Almost two centuries later, the flame continues to burn bright in Maharashtra, as a new institution, the first of its kind, is set up. A school that Kantabai More, at the age of 74, can proudly say she attends twice a week. Where she gets scolded for not finishing her homework by her teacher, Sheetal More, who also happens to be her daughter-in-law. A school where all her peers are of her age. A school for the ajjis (grandmothers) of Fangane, a village in Maharashtra.

On March 8th, 2016, International Women’s Day, the Ajjibaichi Shaala (Grandmothers’ School), was set up in Fangane at the demand of the ajjis. “

The idea for Ajjibaichi Shaala came to me in Feb 2016, when we were celebrating Shivaji Jayanti,” says the founder Yogendra Bangar. “The ladies in the village were reading out of a ‘paath’ (a holy passage), and I heard the senior women say that they wished they, too, could read the text. That’s where the idea of a school for them came from, and the whole village rallied behind it.”

After having spent their entire lives dedicated to family by tending to the fields, the harvest, and the business, the ajjis have, at long last, decided to turn to their own lifelong desire—to go to school and get an education. 

The crew of Virtual Bharat, a 1000 film journey of India initiated by filmmaker Bharatbala, attempts to capture the ajjis in action, as they don their bright pink saree-uniforms and head to school together to learn their rhymes, math, alphabet, and art—and like any other students, complain about homework and tests. In a four-day shoot in Fangane, living amidst the grandmothers, the team saw that telling the story of the Ajjibaichi Shaala was more than filming the classroom and the uniforms. It had to be about capturing its incredible spirit.

As Sitabai Deshmukh, an 85-year-old ajji—the oldest in her class—tells the crew, school, for her, is about more than just the letters that they teach (which she forgets before the next class anyway); she cannot even really see the blackboard or comprehend much of what is taught to her. For her, school is about living a life she never thought she would have access to. A life she has ensured that her children and grandchildren experience. A life that she too can now proudly say she has lived. The Ajjibaichi Shaala is a Maharashtrian grandmother’s dream and now serves as source of pride.

Watch the short film on the link below!

Virtual Bharat in collaboration with India Currents will release a monthly series highlighting the stories Virtual Bharat is capturing in India. Stay tuned for more!

Virtual Bharat is a 1000 film journey of untold stories of India spanning people, landscapes, literature, folklore, dance, music, traditions, architecture, and more in a repository of culture. The vision of director Bharatbala, creator of Maa Tujhe Salaam, we are a tale of India told person-by-person, story-by-story, and experience-by-experience. The films are under 10 minutes in length and are currently available on Virtual Bharat’s Youtube Channel

A Legacy That Belongs to All of Us

For years, Asian-Americans donned a cultural Invisibility cloak before Western audiences. And although undiscovered, their stories have unfolded silently and beautifully from generation to generation. That’s why the five-part documentary series, Asian Americans, created by an all-Asian American team of filmmakers, plays such a critical role in chronicling the immigrant experience. 

Narrated by Daniel Dae Kim and Tamlyn Tomita, Asian Americans strings together the stories of the many struggles for freedom – from the Japanese incarcerations during World War II to anti-Asian immigration laws. The storytelling, accompanied by the power of the documentary’s visual component, delivers a poignant narrative about what it means to belong to a country unconditionally, in the face of both adversity and animosity. Asian Americans features interviews with some of our community’s most celebrated individuals, such as Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen, Chinese-American journalist Helen Zia, academic expert Erika Lee,  and Indian-American comedian Hari Kondabolu. Their stories highlight the difficulty in navigating identity between two dichotomous cultures. 

The trailer for Asian Americans ends with the words, “and their legacy belongs to all of us!” As I reflect on my own experience as Indian-American, I realize how much I identify with these words. So many trailblazers have carved out a voice for our community — and PBS’s Asian Americans gives them the credit they rightfully deserve. 

While the documentary is impactful on its own, its content becomes more topical against the backdrop of a global pandemic. The current coronavirus outbreak marks an alarming rise in anti-Asian sentiment and xenophobic paranoia. According to a poll conducted in New York, residents have reported roughly 248 cases of racial prejudice since January. 1600 hundred attacks have been reported nationwide — a number which can only be an undercount, due to the shame and fear that contributes to such attacks. Divisive language surrounding this situation, such as calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus” or “the Wuhan virus” turn Asian-Americans into a convenient scapegoat for unprecedented circumstances. Social media platforms document shocking tales of bigoted attacks against law-abiding Asian Americans, such as a video of two girls at Garden Grove’s Bolsda Grande High “screaming ‘coronavirus’ at Asian American students”. COVID-19’s impact on race relations is not making national headlines because of its novelty. Rather, it’s only chillingly familiar for the Asian American community.

Virtual Town Hall hosted by the Center for Asian American Media.

In a virtual Town Hall hosted by the Center for Asian American Media, producers and members of this documentary discussed what it means to be of Asian descent during an international crisis. Some of the panelists included Viet Thanh Nguyen, Amna Nawaz, Hari Kondabolu, and more. And in a critical segment of this Town Hall, the panelists pointed out how coronavirus fears play into America’s history of race-based discrimination. It was only one generation ago, for instance, that Chinese-American draftsman Vincent Chin was beaten to death by two white men in Wayne County, Detroit. While Chin’s assailants were originally charged with second-degree murder, their only punishment was $3,000 dollars and no jail time. “It reminded Asian-Americans that progress hadn’t really been made.” 

Today, every voice in the United States has the opportunity to change our country’s cycle of systematic abuse. Rather than using a national tragedy to fuel dangerous and divisive rhetoric, we have the chance to truly move forward. And Asian Americans represent that effort towards a liberated future for the next generation of immigrants. “As much as tragedy is a part of our heritage here, so is possibility.”

The documentary premieres Money and Tuesday, May 11 & 12, 2020 at 8pm on PBS. To watch the trailer, click here! 

To find out more about the Digital Town Hall, watch a recording of the panel here.

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being a Youth Editor for India Currents, she is the Editor-in-Chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

Lovesick in San Jose

Check out this movie for yourself on Saturday Oct 20, 2018 in San Jose! Details here: https://indiacurrents.com/events/film-show-lovesick/

I watched Lovesick at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, which comes with the usual homey discord of diasporic film festivals. The people behind me were passing tupperware filled with aloo gobhi. The harangued IFFLA staff member was pleading people to lower their voices as he introduced the filmmakers. I was at once amused — as a film student, I’m usually surrounded by a much more reverential crowd — and admittedly irked — I would like to hear the filmmakers’ introductions and nobody passed me any aloo gobhi. Under the wafting smell of aloo gobhi, I feel at home and alien. It was under these classically clashing circumstances that I watched Lovesick, which also seemed to be trying to navigate pleasing two worlds and settling neither here nor there.

The directors of Lovesick, Ann S. Kim and Priya Giri Desai, were both working at PBS when they came across an article about Dr. Suniti Solomon, the first person to find HIV in India. In the film, we learn that Dr. Solomon is more aptly described as the first person to even look for HIV in India, which she found widespread in sex workers. She then left what she described as “her prestigious academic job” to found a clinic for people with HIV.

Here’s where it begins to get wacky. Through founding the clinic, Dr. Solomon somewhat organically created a matchmaking service to help HIV positive people find partners, a practice which the directors claim is now common in Indian HIV clinics. Ann and Priya decided Dr. Solomon’s story was too big for a throwaway article, and through a mutual connection decided to meet her in person. Eight years later, they birthed Lovesick, a longitudinal documentary on Dr. Solomon’s life and the story of a successful couple she matched.

The film is humorous, poignant and tender. Dr. Solomon matches couples because she too was madly in love for many decades. Her late husband was Christian and she is Hindu, yet, in a tale as old as time, love conquered all. I’m a sucker for a sappy love story, so I was moved when I saw Dr. Solomon read out passionate letters her husband wrote to her, which she now keeps sealed in a ziplock bag. Later, she waters the purple orchids surrounding her husband’s picture. “His favorite flower,” she remarks, standing next to a shelf of Christian and Hindu paraphernalia. We begin to understand why Dr. Solomon is such an advocate for finding love.

Through her matchmaking service, we meet Manu and Karthik, two of her “lovesick” patients. Their faces are not shown for most of the film because HIV is still so taboo in India — best evidenced by a sequence in the film where Manu’s Mother asks if she can say the word “HIV.” Both Manu and Karthik are sweet and lovable, but there is a certain emphasis placed on the fact that neither was “to blame” for contracted HIV. Karthik was given tainted blood and Manu was married to a man who never revealed to her that he was HIV positive.

In fact, the communities Indian society would like to blame for HIV, are curiously absent from the film. For example, Dr. Solomon first found HIV in sex workers, yet not a single sex worker is interviewed in the film. We know HIV to predominantly exist in the gay community, but Dr. Solomon’s matchmaking service seems to only match heterosexual, or seemingly heterosexual, couples.  

As sweet and deserving of love as Manu and Karthik are, the fact that they are able to find it is predicated on his Brahmin caste and her educated background, as Dr. Solomon’s staff giddily relay in the matchmaking process.

By the end of the film, Manu and Karthik decide to allow their faces to be shown. The couple even spoke at the screening in New York and have committed to be the public faces for HIV clinics in India.

The film is an homage to the remarkable Dr. Solomon, who passed away before the film was released. At times, she even even goaded men into coming in to receive treatment by telling them they would only find love if they took care of themselves. She understood the interconnectivity between human wellbeing and love — and all of its accoutrements, like desire and compassion — and her own love for others will always be remembered.

Urvashi Pathania is a film-maker who writes from Los Angeles, where she attends the University of Southern California. You can learn more about her at urvashipathania.com.

This review was originally published by India Currents in April, 2018. It was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain.

 

 

Lovesick: A West Coast Premiere

After discovering the first cases of HIV in India in 1986, Dr. Suniti Solomon left a prestigious academic job to build her own clinic focusing on treating HIV/AIDS patients. Several decades and breakthroughs in treatment later, her clinic is one of the highest regarded in the country and her patients are living longer lives. While surviving, some of

HIV infected Tcell

her patients are not thriving. Being Indian, they feel immense societal and personal pressure to marry, but simultaneously face a stigma of being HIV-positive. Now in the twilight of her impressive career, Dr. Solomon takes the next step in her treatment by creating a matchmaking service for those seeking marriage. Through the service we meet Manu and Karthik, two of her patients who want to share their lives with someone but are fearful they never will. Shot over eight years and told with compassion and care, filmmakers Ann S. Kim and Priya Giri Desai give us a surprising and hopeful story about the universal healing ability of companionship and love.

Priya Giri Desai’s work in print and broadcast media spans two decades and includes work for outlets such as LIFE magazine, PBS and independent film projects. Desai is a graduate of Duke University and a founding board member of The India Center Foundation, a cultural non-profit organization in New York dedicated to the study of the Indian subcontinent, the promotion of its cultural life, and the unique relationship between India and the United States. Ann S. Kim is an independent filmmaker who has reported on a range of science global health issues for public television and radio. From 2016-2017, Kim served as the first Chief Design Officer for the U.S. Surgeon General, bringing design thinking into government and urgent public health issues of addiction, opioids, and social isolation.

Lovesick had its world premiere at DOC NYC in November 2017. It will screen on April 14 at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles and again on April 29 at the International Film Festival Boston.

More info at lovesickthefilm.com

South Asian Spelling Bee Documentary Debuts

The soon to be released “Breaking the Bee” documentary that details the rise and dominance of the Indian American diaspora in spelling bees has been accepted into major Film Festival circuits.

Starting this month, one can see “Breaking the Bee” at the Cleveland International Film Festival on April 6th & 8th, then on May12th at the New York Indian Film Festival in New York City.

“Breaking the Bee” follows four second-generation Indian-American children, ages 7 to 14, over the course of a year, or “bee season,” as they train to reach (and win) the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee. It’s an inside look at studying, family life, competing in qualifying bees, and being a kid with big dreams. Some are in their final year of eligibility while others are just beginning their spelling careers. With expert commentary from CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Fareed Zakaria, comedian Hari Kondabolu, ESPN’s Kevin Negandhi, and past Scripps winners, the film offers an analysis into what drives this trend, while exploring the ups and downs of chasing a dream and pondering just how long this incredible trend can last.

The film is directed by Sam Rega and produced by Chris Weller, both of whom worked at Business Insider when they got the idea to produce the film.

Since 1999, all but four contest winners have been Indian-American, and of the 285-plus children who make it to Scripps each year, roughly 25% come from families of Indian descent. This is something of an anomaly, as Indian-Americans make up just 1% of the United States population.

The perfect storm has been brewing for decades — from the 1965 immigration law that eliminated quota systems for Indian immigrants, thus driving a wave of highly-educated individuals to come to the United States, to the formation of Indian-only spelling bees, to the explosion of mainstream interest in competitive spelling, ever since ESPN began broadcasting the Scripps Bee in 1994.

The film details the South Asian Spelling Bee’s contribution to this phenomenon with expert interviews with its Founder Rahul Walia. The SASB as its fondly known amongst Desis was started in 2008 and has the distinction of being a precursor to the winners of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.  Winners of SASB have been winners at Scripps and while Scripps has produced 3 sets of co-champions, SASB has been considered tougher since only one speller ever becomes the champion.

On its Facebook page, one can see 5 star reviews from parents and spellers alike who attribute their overall success to the experience they got at SASB.

“It’s the Gold Standard of Spelling Bee,” says Usha & Ganesh Dasari, parents of the spelling bee duo Shobha and Shourav. Shourav is one of the four spellers “Breaking the Bee” follows.

The SASB is conducted every summer and starts June 16th this year. It will be conducted nationally in 6 major cities and registration is now open at www.southasianspellingbee.com. The series is shown on Sony Entertainment Television Asia and is sponsored by Kawan Foods and Touchdown Media Inc.