Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A bit of a filmography...AKA I'm copping out because I don't have a movie to review this month.

My earliest memories include sleepovers at my grandparents' home, where my older sister and I were sent every other weekend for “quality time”. Without my parents to act as mediators of the conversation, our dinner table exchanges were usually amalgams of halting, ungrammatical Gujarati and fragmented English, neither generation sufficiently fluent in the other's language of choice. Our communication was awkward at best--until the plates were cleared away and we would troop behind my grandfather to a large cabinet, inside which lay rows of video cassettes, neatly nestled in colorful sleeves and arranged in order of descending height. With ceremonial solemnity, my sister and I would scour the shelves to select which Bollywood blockbuster would serve as our viewing pleasure that night. Thus marked the beginning of my fascination with film, which in turn, became the foundation of a relationship with my grandfather that erased all boundaries of age or language. With their intricately choreographed dance sequences, extravagant sets, and larger-than-life stars, these films took us to a place where we could reach a comfort level that didn’t rely on verbal eloquence. We’d get swept up in elaborate melodramas with the same wistful wonder, indulge in slapstick comedies with the same childlike mirth. My grandfather’s passion for them was infectious, and it was through him that I was first exposed to the genius of Satyajit Ray, the legend of Raj Kapoor, and the iconic celebrity of Amitabh Bachchan. Even years later, when my grasp of Gujarati had improved considerably and coherent conversations were no longer impossible, we preferred to let films speak for us. To this day, Indian cinema has remained my connection to him, as well as to the country I’m a native of, but have never lived in.

At the same time, I couldn’t ignore the community amidst which I did live. Growing up, anime took up a considerable portion of my evening television quota. At home, it wasn’t uncommon that an episode of the Full House might be followed by an hour of Sailor Moon*. My love for these quintessentially Japanese cartoons came in handy at school, where though my circle of friends included nationalities from Greece to Indonesia, my Japanese peers tended to fraternize amongst themselves, finding comfort in cultural intricacies that the rest of us weren't privy to. With anime, I was able to break through the shell that they had built around themselves, becoming a welcomed member at their lunch tables--and consequently, acquiring new friendships, a better grasp of contemporary Japanese vernacular and ultimately, some sense of belonging in an otherwise exclusive society.

My exposure to Hollywood began early, thanks to the foreign satellite dish installed in our apartment building, through which my mother would tape whatever late-night film she deemed appropriate enough for my sister and I to see**. As we got older, countless trips to the local video rental store, along with occasional splurges at the theater with friends, kept me updated on the industry's latest turnouts and gave me numerous--albeit occasionally glossed over and dramatic--snapshots of life in America, where I expected to eventually study. Along with my
interest in Indian films and Japanese anime, I developed a love for the classical narratives and technical finesse of American movies; once again, it was film that educated me in many of the trends, values, and conventions of a nation that, until that point, I had felt a flimsy connection to.

Looking back, I’ve become intrigued by my relationship with film, and have begun to seek ways to build upon it further. Attending a lecture given by Michael Moore on his controversial Fahrenheit 9/11, writing essays on the socio-economic motivations of the French New Wave***, touring popular filming locations during a summer program in London: my endeavors have only augmented my fascination with the kaleidoscopic nature of the medium-- the way in which, from various angles, films can be viewed as social commentaries, technological innovations, or vehicles of globalization. These ventures have allowed me to connect briefly with not only the cultures contiguous to my background, but those extending to peoples, areas, and issues that had once seemed alien and inaccessible to me.

And yet, I’m aware that I’ve only just begun with my ventures into the world of film. My next step is graduate school, which I’ll be starting this September; a two-year program at the New School from which I hope to gain a more sophisticated, refined grasp of cinema as cultural artifact. Only then can I expect to one day inspire others to regard it with a similar respect: to approach it not just as mindless entertainment that we passively observe, but as a stage for meaningful and eye-opening discourse in which we can actively participate.

*the adventures of a group of teenage girls, middle school students by day and magical defenders of the universe by night. Watch it. It’s awesome.
** Adventures of a Baby Sitter, My Girl, Home Alone….it’s really because of Mom that I wasn’t a total social outcast when I came to this country ☺
*** okay, okay--that one was because my film history class, junior year of college, forced me to.