Tag Archives: #rajkrishna

The Reunited States: South Asians Take the Lead

The Reunited States is a powerful documentary about the rampant division in America with a difference. It offers solutions. It tracks Black Lives Matter and Susan Bro’s mission for social justice from the anniversary of the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally up until her breakthrough with Congress to pass the bipartisan Khalid Jabara-Heather Heyer NO HATE Act. The documentary is inspired by the book The Reunited States Of America: How to Bridge The Partisan Divide by Mark Gerzon, who served as a consulting producer and also appears in the film. It is directed by an Indian American Ben Rekhi and produced by Raj Krishna. It features Steven Olikara, of the Millennial Action Project; Greg Orman, an independent politician who ran for Governor of Kansas in 2018; and David and Erin Leaverton, who took a road trip to all fifty states with their three kids in an RV in an effort to understand why our nation was hurting.

The Reunited States is produced by Van Jones and Megan McCain. The film was well-received at the Cinequest Film Festival and also at the Atlanta DocuFest and the United Nations Association Film Festival. Dark Star media owns the domestic distribution rights and it will release on-demand on the 9th of February 2021′ you can view it on Amazon and iTunes platforms!

Six years leading to the current election have illustrated that we are far from united. Fractured by politics, region, race, gender, religion, education, and socioeconomic equity, our country almost came to the verge of a lost democracy on January 6, 2021. This documentary offers solutions to bridge the chasm by recruiting all citizens of the country and encouraging them to really listen to why others are hurting?

The film is easy to follow and touches on the lives of many disenfranchised Americans. The narrative empowers us to address critical issues at hand in a more coherent way. Democracy is not easy.

Division is a human problem. For a democracy to survive, we have to recognize our rights and work through differences. The Reunited States forces us to do the work. We have to acknowledge our shared dark history regarding Native Americans and African slaves. After that, we can lay our current problems on the table: racial and gender inequality; crumbling education systems; inadequate healthcare; failing education; unemployment; regional differences; crumbling infrastructure; climate change, and misinformation.

Production still from Reunited States of America.

Once everyone has their skin in the game, it may be possible to navigate difficult conversations, break psychological barriers and understand the meaning of peaceful coexistence. The film addresses that it may not be too late to realize that the “two party” political system might be misusing American dollars to keep themselves in power rather caring for the voters. Misunderstanding and othering spurs hate.

Hate is not only caustic to the person who hates but it also disseminates fear. We cannot remain United by being out of rhythm with our neighbours and trying to protect ourselves with our guns. We have to care for our injured veterans, our elderly, our sick and make sure no one feels that they have “a boot” on their neck. It will not be an easy road, but if we take one deliberate step at a time we will be able to stomp out conspiracies and make an authentic Reunited States, where  “good”, “inclusive”, “courageous” words matter.  What promises hold.

If we wear the mantle to reunite our country and save the United States, we can hope to secure a better future of our progeny. To quote Megan McCain “there is a path forward, together!”

A must watch to save our United States! I strongly recommend all South Asian Americans to get involved in this dialogue to save our democracy. If we don’t have our skin in the game, we will be sidelined.

The Reunited States team had South Asians take the lead: Ben Rekhi, Raj Krishna, and Nisha Anand. In an exclusive Q&A session with India Currents, Co-Producer Raj Krishna, a second generation Indian American, said he was unsettled about the future of the United States in the wake of troubling racist events of 2016. His involvement with this project depicting the hope and unity among everyday Americans was cathartic to his personal mounting anxiety. Raj emphasized that it’s crucial for the South Asian community to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and present a cohesive front with them. Raj believes that we can draw “important lessons against social discrimination by revisiting the problems created by Indian caste system”. We can lessen the divide by realizing that “we all need one another”.

Nisha Anand, the CEO of Dreamcorps recounted her personal family story of the Indian partition. At the time of 1947 division, it was the people around her who chose to honor our shared humanity. Nisha recalls having a Muslim family swear on the Quran that they were not hiding any Hindus (her family). This neighborly act of compassion surmounted religion. What a wonderful lesson of hope! 

Anand accepts the ingrained stigma against dark skin complexions in the Indian psyche. She promotes antiracist sentiment to older South Asian Americans by patiently telling them: “I see it a little differently”. This is a good way to make them acknowledge her point of view without antagonizing them. 

After viewing the film and communicating with the filmmakers, I believe that these young South Asian Americans are using the tools of their multicultural heritage to “build bridges” and to realize the somewhat elusive American Dream! 

They have taken a good first step in the right direction. The film does not convey a biased Left versus Right political view. It just exposes why people are hurting. What disparities communities are facing? We all need to get involved at grass root levels, as students, teachers, parents and engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs and lawyers to advocate for a fair playing field. It does not take a village. In this case, it takes the whole country. Let’s all answer their call to action and walk with them. 

Monita Soni has one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity. Monita has published many poems, essays, and two books, My Light Reflections and Flow Through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.

Padmavyuha: A Film Questioning Blind Faith

(Featured Image: Director, Raj Krishna, and crew on the set of Padmavyuha) 

The dedicated and outspoken religious studies Professor Shaki Ramdas is sitting in his university office one evening when he receives a mysterious phone call –  an unidentified voice tells him that a prominent journalist has gone missing, an obscure religious symbol left at the scene of disappearance. His interest piqued, Professor Ramdas follows up with the Detective on the case, Mark King, who at first is skeptical of Professor Ramdas but grows to trust him and value his inputs.

A still from the film, Padmavyuha.

Professor Ramdas works with Detective King and the unidentified voice on the telephone to decipher a series of religious puzzles, slowly uncovering a growing conspiracy designed to silence non-believers. But as the Professor digs in deeper, he finds himself descending the dark staircase of his own fractured psyche, beginning to question his own views on religion. As he deciphers the final puzzle and discovers the true villain, he will find his religious worldviews transformed – discovering a shocking, newfound purpose. 

After watching Padmavyuha and exchanging correspondence with the Director, Raj Krishna, I began to understand the importance of this film and am glad that it premiered at the International Indian Film Festival in Toronto on August 9, 2020 to a wide audience.

The purpose of this film is threefold:

  1. To introduce the central tenet of Hinduism: The dual concept of Jivatman which goes through several cycles of birth and rebirth to ultimately merge into Parmatman or the Divine source. This can be accomplished through careful observation of actions that are subject to the law of Karma.
  2. To unravel several myths about the origin, history, and core issues of Hinduism.
  3. To question the caste system. When was the “caste system”, which is linked to violent oppression by Hindus, created?

I was born a Hindu and raised in a household where my father, a highly compassionate soul was agnostic for a long time, and my mother was a staunch devotee of Lord Hanuman.  I grew up with a rich tapestry of Hindu culture, mythology, prayers, hymns, and am deeply rooted in my faith. We were taught to notice the atman in every living being and practice ahimsa or nonviolence.

India is a secular state and it was prevalent in my formative years and I think to some extent it is still a common practice for Indians of all faiths to visit temples and other places of worship including churches, mosques, and gurudwaras without restrictions. But recently there had been a rise in right-wing nationalistic sentiment in the West and it has percolated also to our motherland.

Raj Krishna implores the audience to examine the core values of their own faith and try to understand that “ negative” sentiments about faiths are intentionally tagged to many religions just to incite fear among the general population and to prevent them from living in harmony. 

The Director addresses the confusion created all over the world about the “civilizations from the East or the Orient.”  Who were the original Indians?

In fact recently, when Senator Harris accepted the Vice Presidential nomination for the United States of America, I received phone calls from educated Americans friends debating about the origin of the Indian race! Who are the original Indians? Did they come from the Middle East? Who were the Aryans and why did they create an intentional hierarchy amongst their citizens: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras, and other miscellaneous outcastes?

But it is important to recognize whose prerogative is being used to theorize about other races.

I was lost in the shades of grey existing between the two versions of the truth, finding it more and more difficult to classify the current events as good or bad. The more I studied, the more shocked and confused I found myself on the core issues; is religion good? What is its true history? Who is right – the political activists protesting against the religious right, or the religious right themselves, who claim to have done far more in the name of equality than anyone else?,” interrogates Raj Krishna.

The film, Padmavyuha implores the audience to pay attention to the projected ambiguity about the Hindu faith and not fall in the trap created by right-wing nationalists. It behooves every practitioner to carefully examine the good and bad of their own religion before following anything blindly.

To learn more about what Padmavyuha means and to gain a glimpse into the history and mysterious annotations of ancient Indian civilization, watch the movie for yourself. I recommend it! 

Catch a viewing at these following local film festivals:

Silicon Valley Asian Pacific FilmFesthttps://svapfilmfest.eventive.org/films – October 2-10, 2020

Orlando Film Festivalhttps://orlandofilmfest.com/ – October 15-22, 2020

Indian Film Festival of Cincinnatihttps://iffcincy.eventive.org/films – Oct 15-Nov 1, 2020

Show Low – White Mountains Arizona Film Festivalhttps://filmfreeway.com/ShowLowFilmFestival – Oct 16-18, 2020

Oregon State International Film Festivalhttps://dasfilmfest.vhx.tv/products – October 19-25, 2020

Louisville’s International Festival of Filmhttps://louisvillefilmfestival.org/ – Nov 5-7, 2020

Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.