Ajit Varma is running for City Council because he wants Palo Alto to be the best place to live, raise a family, and start a company for generations to come.
Ajit tells DesiCollective about his Silicon Valley dream that brought him to Palo Alto when he was just 19. He is raising his young family in the city and if he is elected, hopes to encourage investment and innovation in housing, jobs, development and technology.
This story is the fifth in our series on conversations with candidates – SHORT TAKES for India Currents – where first time contenders for political office share their aspirations and plans with our community!
If you live in Palo Alto, take a look!
SHORT TAKES/DesiCollective: South Asians are Running for Political Office
The advent of winter brings with it the annual 3rd i Film Festival, a visual smorgasbord of fresh perspectives and brave new voices by independent filmmakers from South Asia and the South Asian Diaspora, including stories from India, Sri Lanka, UK, Italy, and the USA. 3rd i’s 17th Annual San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival: Bollywood and Beyond (SFISAFF) launches at the New People and Castro Theaters in San Francisco from November 7-10, moving to Palo Alto on November 16. Some of the movies are unafraid to explore issues that are uncomfortable, give voice to the oppressed and shed light on matters often overlooked or ignored.
A highlight for this year coming straight out of TIFF and Venice Critics’ Week is Gitanjali Rao’s animated feature Bombay Rose. In the rich, colorful and layered hand-painted animation there is an ethereal brightness to the chaotic Mumbai streetscapes where Bollywood cinema is both satirized and romanticized, and small town folks in the big city can be crushed by its mean streets, or redeemed by love. The film moves seamlessly between a documentary feeling of present-day struggles in Mumbai, to the lusciously designed dream sequences set in ancient India and inspired by Mughal folk art. Yoav Rosenthal’s original score merges swooning ballads with traditional Bollywood music and a haunting Latin love tribute.
This year’s special focus is on Young Voices, with a host of films that feature stories with strong youth characters. Dar Gai’s Namdev Bhau: In Search of Silence is a witty, off-beat take on the road movie, set against the breathtaking landscapes of Ladakh. The film features an inter-generational storyline about the relationship between a young boy and an elderly man, as they head for the peace and tranquility of the Silent Valley, leaving the hustle and bustle of the city behind. Filmmaker Gai, a philosopher by training and originally from Ukraine, has made India her filmmaking home and is touted as an exciting new voice in Indian cinema.
Also part of this youth focus is Rima Das’ Bulbul Can Sing. The film takes us back to the timeless beauty of the northeast in this bittersweet narrative that draws inspiration from her own experiences of growing up in the Assamese countryside. This is no simple rural idyll however; in Das’ deft hands, the film transforms into a deeply compelling exploration of love, loss, and adolescence.
Safdar Rahman’s heartwarming story of young Chippa features Sunny Pawar (award-winning child star of LION). Chippa sets out into night-time Calcutta looking for a father he has never seen, finding a city of migrants who speak in a curious mix of languages. Chippa is not oblivious to the grim reality and communal suspicion surrounding him, but chooses to encounter this world with a mixture of bravado, curiosity and humor.
Another film in the youth category is The MisEducation of Bindu screening in Palo Alto, which premiered at Mill Valley Film Festival, and follows a day in the life of formerly homeschooled Bindu as she endures an American high school and tries to graduate early. Her mother does her best to keep Bindu on track while maintaining her South Asian heritage, and her clueless stepfather tries to give Bindu advice on boys and high school life in America. Paying homage to Bollywood rock with one fantastical Bollywood dance number, Bindu dreams about escaping and longs for her home in India. Director Prarthana Mohan will be present for a Q&A session after.
Rounding out the youth films in Palo Alto is romantic comedy Bangla, with Phaim. An awkwardly charming 22-year-old Italian-Bengali panics when he falls in love with an impulsive and spirited Italian girl. The attraction between them is immediate, and Phaim will have to figure out how to reconcile his love with his life full of rules. This whimsical lens on the clash of cultures is based on the director’s own life, who plays the lead fictionalized version of himself.
Another stellar narrative in Palo Alto is Rohena Gera’s Sir, which premiered at Cannes Film Festival. A nuanced and sensual film, it explores the forbidden attraction between Ratna, a maid, and her employer Ashwin, a wealthy Mumbai bachelor, with each character quietly yearning to break free from the narrow bounds of their class and gender-based expectations. Gera achieves a particular delicacy in her directing, combining an appealing, understated sweetness with an edge, and thwarting all expectations and stereotypes of a typical Indian love story.
The festival features stories of addiction, which includes acclaimed black and white photographer Ronny Sen’s indie Cat Sticks. A gritty and haunting narrative, the film follows the stories of several addicts looking for the high of halogen, a synthetic brand of heroin that created havoc in India at the turn of the millennium.
The other film in this focus is Bhaskar Hazarika’s quietly shocking The Ravening (Aamis), which opened to great acclaim at the Tribeca Film Festival. An unforgettable meditation on taboo and transgression, the film blends gentle romance and body horror into a unique cinematic experience. Hazarika masterfully concocts a tale of love and addiction that builds slowly – from a lilting rhythm to a pounding finale.
While this year’s program predominantly showcases narrative features, documentaries are also part of the lineup. Equal parts comedy and self-discovery, Laura Asherman’s intimate doc American Hasiis a portrait of Indian-American comedian, Tushar Singh. In an attempt to accelerate his career, Singh maps out a 35-day tour in India (with his mom in tow), taking part in India’s flourishing stand-up scene.
Comedy also features prominently in this year’s edition of Coast to Coast, 3rd i’s signature shorts program which brings California filmmakers into conversation with filmmakers from South Asia and the Diaspora. The program includes Varun Chounal’s Gabroo about a young Sikh boy’s complicated relationship with his hair, Mahesh Pailoor’s portrait of Pakistani-American comedienne, Mona Shaikh, and Andrew Sturm’s political satire on the border wall, 31 Foot Ladders, along with a variety of short docs, narratives, and music videos.
This year for the first time in the festival’s history, 3rd i will offer a free Master Class in filmmaking from the talented documentary filmmaker Nishtha Jain (City of Photos, Lakshmiand Me, At My Doorstep, Gulabi Gang). Jain returns to SFISAFF to talk about her filmmaking process, to present excerpts from past work and the present, and to talk about the different social and political movements in India and its alignment with her work. Jain’s work holds up a mirror to some of the most pressing concerns in India today, including India’s #metoo women’s movement.
Women’s issues are at the forefront of several other films in the lineup. Vasanth S. Sai’s Sivaranjani and Two Other Women pays a cinematic homage to the “everyday” woman and is a deeply moving work that focuses a critical lens on patriarchy, with outstanding performances by each of the lead actresses. The film captures the micro awakenings of identity and self-worth when family dynamics, early marriage, and pregnancy threaten to usurp the individuality of three women, unfolding across three different time periods.
The festival brings back Sri Lankan director Prasanna Vithanage with a screening of the historical epic feature Children of the Sun (Gaadi) about a Sinhalese Buddhist woman in the 1814 Kandyan Kingdom of Sri Lanka, stripped from nobility, who subverts the destiny forced upon her. His searing masterpiece is a period drama that takes on caste conflict and British colonial influences in Sri Lanka in the early 1800s. Director Vithanage will join a panel discussion following the film.
Among the voices to amplify, LGBTQ+ themes feature prominently in Poonam Brah’s Home Girl about a British lesbian woman’s coming out story while navigating her mother’s death in Coast to Coast, 3rd i’s shorts program, as well as Ronny Sen’s Cat Sticks illuminating the life and trials of a transgender sex worker, and Rima Das’ engaging youthful exploration Bulbul Can Sing.
Castro Passes ($35) are only available online until Nov 5. Tickets to individual films are $11/online and $13/at the door. More information about the festival, including expanded program, guest and ticketing information, please visit www.thirdi.org
Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter, Facebook for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news and magazines.
Cover photo credit: 3rd i Films.
This article was edited by Culture and Media editor Geetika Pathania Jain.
San Francisco Bay Area experienced the world premiere of Still I Rise, a solo performance by Vidhya Subramanian, on May 18, 2018, in Palo Alto, California. (Presented by Narika, an organization for women’s empowerment). While all elements of the production are note-worthy, this review will only speak to the dance aspects.
Subramanian’s latest production is a fabric woven from seven threads, each alluding to a nuance of fire while portraying known and imagined episodes in Draupadi’s tale. It begins with “Ashes,” which has Vidhya center stage under a diaphanous material, in a yogic child’s pose, performing sinewy movements. When she sits up, we realize that she’s lamenting the loss of her sons, who have died a fiery death. In a hard-hitting Hindi passage, she seeks and speaks of their life together; never to be enjoyed any more. One saw Draupadi as a crushed mother for the first time perhaps; and then swiftly, she turns into an enraged contrast when she challenges Yudhishtra to secure revenge. Subramanian’s capacity to handle such sorrow on stage and the ability to depict it elegantly; and then instantly turning into a fiery character were a lesson in artful body language, controlled facial expression, and more importantly: how to bring it all together to a single word, when she arises and calls out “Yudhishtra!” Vidhya then proceeded to release all that painful fury in flashes of abhinaya, such as when she showed the jewel being wrenched out from Ashwatthama’s forehead and when she showed her own strong-but-trapped breath.
“Luminance” shed a light in Tamizh, on Draupadi’s presence in the universal kundalini; her place in all our lives as the sixth sense. There was an additional, interesting contrast; Luminance also shone a questioning light in the dark world inhabited by Gandhari. The program brought to center-stage the question: Why did Gandhari turn a blind eye that fateful day in court? Subramanian distils a spectrum of bhava into an impactful, contained explosion of expression in each line. Her portrayal of Draupadi is startlingly honest, as one bereaved mother to another; posing questions with no answers forthcoming.
“Kindling” was aptly named: Draupadi’s insult of Karna was one of the many episodes that led to the War. Subramanian was the excited Bengali Draupadi on the day of her Swayamvara, she was the embarrassed suitor, she was the hapless onlooker to the confrontation between her brother and Karna. Then she was the heroine who, in a single moment, is caught up in a lifetime of conflict. At one point, allows her young heroine to express joy, which was surprising given the weight of the situation- It speaks to the intimacy the artist must have felt with her nayika. Then, she ages instantaneously, as she realizes the import of her words. Subramanian’s master stroke here was to depict her heroine marshalling her own sixth sense as she foresees the unfolding of terrible events. Subramanian then chose to youthfully shrug off the calamitous foreboding to have a petulant conversation with Krishna, which was memorable, as were the deliberate Odissi-like punctuations in the dancing here.
“Combustion” was where Subramanian truly raised the bar on several fronts. Artistically speaking, through a simple coiling of fabric on upstretched legs while on a shoulder stand, she dared the world to look away from rape. Intellectually speaking, she contended that while Krishna may have saved Draupadi with a limitless saree, it is the very same saree that binds a woman, even at times to a misplaced and unjust sense of shame. Subramanian was the Draupadi embodied in each victim in a numb state of disbelief, the jury in a suspended state of verdict, and the deliberate reporter in a state of unrelenting questioning in Subramanya Bharathi’s poem. It was uncomfortable, but at once the audience understood that this discomfort paled to that of any victim of plunder. Kudos to Subramanian for throwing a Truth And Dare challenge to the audience, not many artists do this.
“Carnage” was also an act where Subramanian did one better than the other acts, since she was the victim that exacted her own revenge. Was she even Draupadi here? Aided and abetted by the well-known Kumara Vyasa Kannada poem, Subramanian’s portrayal was stark in its manic thirst for revenge and flagrant (but elegant) in its enjoyment of it. The thin lines between artistic liberty, drama, BharataNatyam, and the narrative were tightly aligned. The dancing was strong, evoking a catharsis while also showing the complete understanding between Bheema and Draupadi that transcended the physical plane. Whereas the typical depiction of this poem is one of uni-dimensional anger, Subramanian packed her bhava with layers upon layers of nuances.
“Incandescence” is literally a reflection of sisterhoods between the ages, where Draupadi, Radha, and Sita meet for a girls’ night out. Subramanian delivered this via spoken words in English, and the act came as a delightful reprieve from the intensity of the past acts. At the heart of it was the question, why are Sita and Radha gifted with glory while Draupadi, who was bid and did as she was bid, is often misunderstood? Subramanian’s rendition of this was superlative and built a bond between the audience and Draupadi, who was freed from her mythological anvil and placed among us, as our friend, sister, or mother. That the artist could become whole after carnage and then render humor was a major feat.
“Uprising” has Draupadi (or is it our own sense of self?) looking at the current world and urging every woman to stand up for herself through the Pushyamitra Upadhyay’s Hindi poem and Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.” Powerfully delivered through dance and spoken word, it was decidedly rousing. At the end, Vidhya beckoned to the audience and several women joined her on stage, thus closing the circuit between stage and house; character and person; dancer and audience, mythology and reality.
Overall, there need to be more English words for the benefit of the audience that’s already grappling with a change in episode and interpretation. However, Subramanian’s angika abhinaya is clear and compelling, one is always in sync with at least the sentiment. The costume was understated and aligned with the theme: yellow, red, black, the colors of fire. Perhaps the orientation of the pattern could have been vertical instead of horizontal though.
Subramanian is known to be partial to women-oriented topics; it can be said that her earlier experimentations with a nayika’s characterization in a varnam, padam, javali, or ashtapadi were all leading up to this debut. There is a bold, minimalist, impactful, and more importantly, a resolute stirring of the plot, the dancing, and the format in Still I Rise.
Vidhya Subramanian, the acclaimed Bharatnatyam dancer, will premiere her latest piece “Still I Rise” in Palo Alto on May 18th, 2018.
Subramanian is part of the shining mecca of Indian classicalism here in the Bay, where a vastrange of artists and teachers are shaping Northern California’s arts culture, and producing an accomplished next generation of classical dancers and musicians.
She is also part of a rising movement of trans-national artists, spending half of the year in the Bay Area and the other half in Chennai.
“Still I Rise” is a dance-theatre piece. The title is inspired by Maya Angelou’s scintillating 1978 poem. Speckled with dance, spoken word, poetry, and music, in five languages, Subramanian’s piece gives voice to the controversial mythological figure of Draupadi.
“I will not be retelling her story,” says Subramanian, in describing her piece. Rather, this will be an attempt to “reshape” a mythological story and channel its deep relevance to our life and times today.
Subramanian’s performance style poses crucial questions towards the fight for gender justice. “I want to underline that nothing has changed since Draupadi”, she insists. “And, that she is not a forgotten myth, or worse, a myth placed on a pedestal, but is as current and relevant to today.”
“Still I Rise” will feature recorded music by Chennai-based composer Rajkumar Bharati, and a script co-written by Priya Das, creative director at Sangam Arts, and Vidhya herself. The evening will be presented by Narika, a non-for profit, Berkeley-based organization that actively works against domestic violence in the South Asian American community.
In collaborating with Narika, Subramanian felt a deep alignment with the organization’s mission and purposes. Last year alone, Narika advocates fielded over 1500 calls to their toll-free helpline, servicing the greater Bay Area. Research shows that 41% of South Asian women in America report experiencing domestic violence at least once in their lifetimes, compared to about 25% of women in the general United States population.
But beyond the statistics of the issue, Subramanian claims that it is the “individual stories” of domestic violence which are more haunting for her.
“There is a Draupadi in all of us,” notes Subramanian. With her work, she aims to appeal to every woman in the audience, to assure them that they are not alone in the fight for gender justice.
“Still I Rise” tackles a complex and rampant issue facing our communities through the medium of dance, music and poetry. The sound and music production has been done by Sai Shravanam, costuming by Sandhya Raman, and lighting design by Kaveri Seth.
“Still I Rise” presented by Narika at the Cubberley Theatre, Palo Alto on May 18th, 2018. Tickets $35 for General Admission and $50 for VIP. For tickets and information, please visit: https://narika.brownpapertickets.com/
We’ve entered a new era in education, where the limitations of physical proximity and available resources for individual students have become less of an obstacle than they used to be.
But if we’re going to take advantage of these new opportunities, we need a new line of thinking and new approaches.
Enter Crimson Education
Crimson Education is a startup dedicated to connecting students from all over the world to resources, mentors, and career pathways that are right for them. Currently, the company has a network of more than 2,000 expert tutors, consultants, and mentors across the globe with 17 offices established in cities including: San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Sydney, London, Bangkok, and more.
Collectively, these contacts work to help students to secure the best education opportunities for them, including admissions to Ivy League universities. Step-by-step support across a spectrum of tutoring is offered, including extracurricular and leadership advising, standardized test preparation, and more.
With a reported value of over $200 million, Crimson helped secure offers to every Ivy League university, as well as Oxford and Cambridge, for students around the world for the past 3 years. During the 2017-2018 admissions round, 50% of Crimson’s early applicants to Harvard in 2017 were admitted, over 3 times higher than the general early acceptance rate of 14.5%.
Main Areas of Development
So what makes Crimson stand apart from other tutoring and mentorship programs? The answer has to do with the firm’s main areas of focus and development.
Equal opportunities. Crimson aims to level inequities in education by offering more resources to a broader pool of students.
Individualized mentorship. The program also pairs students with consultants and mentors on a one-on-one basis.
Technology integration. Crimson also makes great use of technology: It gives students a visual roadmap to plan out their education, as well as regular reporting back to parents.
Crimson alone can’t change the world, but it’s certainly starting to make a difference. When the rest of our educational system to catches up, we’ll have smarter citizens, better job placement, and a better quality of life. To start your journey, book your free initial consultation today.
Also check out our Parents Breakfast in Palo Alto on March 27th where we will cover recent trends in college admissions and good ways to spend your summer break. Get a free ticket with the code IndiaCurrents.