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Archive for May, 2009

The hit show America’s Next Tope Model, starting former Victoria Secret model Tyra Banks has become some what of a cult show in America. Running for eleven seasons and returning for its twelfth in the fall, viewers continue to tune in to the CW every Wednesday night to see what crazy challenges and photo shoot antics Tyra is going to have the contestants do. With each contestant vying for the prize of a management contract with Ford Models, a $100,000 contract with CoverGirl, and the opportunity to appear in a top magazine its no wonder that America’s Next Top Model has spurred spin offs overseas such as Britain’s Next Top Model and Germany’s Next Top Model. And now the hype has reached India.

Working as an intern at Red Chillies in the non-fiction TV department, I was assigned to help out on the pre-production of India’s Next Top Mode (INTM), which is scheduled to air in mid August. While I was always aware that reality TV wasn’t actually reality, I’m beginning to understand how much of the shows are actually planned out before the first day of shooting ever takes place. Casting the girls has a lot to do with it. As a prior America’s Next Top Model fanatic, I was in charge of helping out with casting the girls that would fit in certain roles that would create the best reality once shooting began. The best reality TV meaning the more drama the better. So finding girls that would meet all the requirements to be on the show while fitting into certain stereotypes was very interesting.

In addition to helping out with casting, I have also been helping out with research and giving my input on creative meetings with ideas for the show. While it’s a little difficult at times during these meetings because the group talks in Hineligsh, going back and forth from English and Hindi, I’m trying my hardest to give good input and insights into what would make for a good show. I can’t wait to go back on Monday.

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I finally went to my internship!! I’ll be interning on set of a UTV Spot Boy film called Peter Gaya Kaam Se, it’s an action flick about a taxi bike rider from Goa. The title is a phrase in Hindi that means something to the effect of: Peter’s in a LOT of trouble. I met the AD (assistant director for all you non-film folk) and the director (a British man named John Owen). I’d love to give more details about the story but I’ve been sworn to secrecy because the movie is still in production. I’m sooo excited about this and I think I’m going to end up learning a lot.

Another point to note about the locals here: yes always really means no. Do you know where this place is mr. rickshaw driver? yes, yes, yes……. um nope. Will this be done on time? absolutely….. not. I went to grab some movies from the mall today and, again for all you non-film folk, there are two things you need to look for when buying DVDs from other countries: the format (should be NTSC instead of PAL) and the region (where the DVD will play, the USA is region 1). I found an amazing stock of disney movies and I was absolutely ecstatic because you can’t get these in the US due to Disney’s commercially genius but HATED “vault”, which basically means the original Disney movies are recirculated every few years in limited amounts to force people to buy them for escalated prices as soon as they go on the market. Soooo, they all said NTSC (check) but there was no region number. There was a small number in a globe that looked like it could be the region number but I wasn’t sure. So, like we Americans do, I went to ask the staff. None of them knew what they were talking about, they didn’t know what a region was, but every single one of them assured me that it would play in the US. Yes, yes, yes, yes…… aaaand NO. I kept the reciept so I’ll return them, only one is opened, but it’s pretty annoying. There are no straight answers and people are stubborn even when they know that they actually don’t know what they’re talking about. Welcome to India, haha.

I did manage to sort out my region DVD problem (VLC player fixes everything) and now I can watch the Jungle Book, Peter Pan, and Hercules on my computer whenever I like, woot! By the way, all three of those movies along with the Blue Planet series and two Hindi movies were purchases for a whopping 50$. I should come here just to shop, I’d probably pay for the plane ticket with the money I save by shopping in rupees. Almost everything is under ten dollars, cab rides are usually under two dollars and split between three people, a gourmet meal is about 8 bucks, designer clothes are like 20$ (we’re talking Gucci).

We’re living like kings off of the conversion rate but we can’t forget that we’re doing it in a third world country. I’m learning what the words ‘poverty’ and ‘grateful’ really mean, and I’m learning how to kill a cockroach with a frying pan. It’s a mixed bag here so I guess all there is to do is take the good and the bad, the riches and the roaches, and to learn a little on the way.

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Corrosion

There is something in the air that (supposedly) causes the buildings to corrode. The monsoons come full force in the coming weeks and cause some corrosion as well. With corrosion comes rebirth as well, I suppose. Just as death causes reincarnation.

Professor Goenka lectured in our Bollywood class this past spring semester about the body of the female depicted in Bollywood cinema. She reflected on the thinness of current stars and how curvature no longer defines the Indian woman onscreen. If you consult an old popular Hindi cinema collection, you will see that plenty of women wore saris that exposed their curvy stomachs and wider hips. Now it seems as though there is a demand for twiggy legs and dominant personalities. But where are females supposed to find such strength and dominance if our physicality is in utter contradiction to such a trait?

Every beauty onscreen, no matter which country you’re in, appears to be empowered by the angles of camera and her statuesque stance. But why does her empowerment seem to derive from being more masculine? Women are masculinized constantly. What’s a movie without a heartless bitch, a firm businesswoman, a female mastermind, or a dominatrix prostitute? Why can’t women just be women… why can’t they just be strong in their own way. Let’s face it, women have emotions, they have curves, they have mood swings, and they’re individualistic. Not every female character has to be EITHER oober feminine or oober masculine. They are not ALL marginalized and they are not ALL breaking men’s hearts while working full-time for an intelligence agency. There is so much to be played with in that gray area.

I apologize if this has sounded like a rant, but I guess these ideas of feminism have been brewing over a period of time. The female body is corroding and many filmmakers/storytellers have noticed this and have worked against the grain to create real people and characters with more than just face value. The corrosion of the female body should not be part of the 21st century. Empowerment does not come from beauty alone, like most female power seems to come from… it comes from respect for oneself above anything else because that mindset breeds strength in all forms. Femininity should be expressed in its own terms without comparing it to the masculine or catering toward the masculine. Let’s face it… on the surface, she may be tan and glistening, but inside, every woman wants to eat that ice cream. So don’t deny her of it! Revive the real meaning of femininity. Bring out your floral prints, pink ballet slippers, frilly skirts, body curves, and let down your hair! I know I will be criticized for defining “femininity”, so insert your political correct definition here.

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In The Now

Over the past couple of days, everything that was said a couple of days before then have begun to sink in. The Dean of WWI mentioned how many times people fret about the past and are anxious about the future. But what about now? After waking up each morning and realizing, “I am really in India!”, and experiencing the tour of Dharavi, I have recognized my now. That is, to be grateful for the now because nothing is promised. To make the best out of every situation. To learn from others.

Besides taking in this complex culture and having the opportunity to intern abroad, a major part of this trip was self discovery. It’s amazing how much of yourself you can find in others, no matter how different the situation or background. Walking through the slums, my heart dropped in a bit of anxiety and fear. Of what? I do not even know, but it was warming to see the amount of smiles that came our way, the simple wave, or the children asking how we were doing. Imagine. Working for nothing remotely close to minimum wage, and living in a small space with 3-6 other people. Sometimes even 8 persons. You suddenly realize your problems aren’t as big as you believe they are. You begin to make the best out of any situation. And with a smile. I came here with some of my own personal baggage, but I am on longer stressing. Instead, I am simply adjusting. Going with the ebb and flow of life. It is incredible to find such peace in a place that has such complexities. I am in the now. I will deal with the future when I get there. *Gasps* Did that just come from me?

I have also learned that I enjoy spending time alone. Being away from what I am used to, taking invaluable time out from a relationship, and sometimes isolating myself from others here feels almost cleansing. I don’t feel so…so….clamored? I don’t know if that is the right word, but hey! Even in a room full of people, I can channel myself away from it all. I hope no one thinks I am anti-social because I am quite the butterfly 😉 But it feels great to have the opportunity to be selfish with my time. My mom would also be happy to hear I am gaining a great deal of independence on this trip. If riding in a rickshaw alone from Bandra to Goregaon East or Film City to Powai doesn’t do it, I don’t know what will. Lol!

In other news…

i. The internship. It’s going. Simply put. My supervisor just didn’t show up today so I left after nearly finishing my novel. On the few days that there was something for me to do, I researched future guests such as Kiran Bedi, Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor, and Beba Ramdev. ALL very interesting people and I was able to use the info over dinner with Vishal, the Exec Producer of another program at Red Chillies. TG, you were right!

ii. Bugs, Booze, Brothels and Boys. I think that speaks for itself. He na? Thik he, well there are water bugs everywhere and one even thought it was OK to snuggle up in my bed. Ehh, not so much! Every now and then we have a little cocktail and chat. Always fun. Especially in a club like Zenzi ;). Brothels. Uhm, yeah so we may be living on the same floor as a modern day brothel. Pretty cool, huh? …Yeah, I didn’t think so either. Boys. Boys….damn, boys.

Lets see what insight next week will bring!

achcha, bus

nya*

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PRINCE

For the past 4 days, Hannah and I have been working under the Assistant Directors of a feature film called PRINCE. Ironically, this is the first time both of us have worked in an office setting and it just so happens to be in a foreign land. Since the production strikes have been affecting the film industry, many productions are halted. We are lucky enough to be on a set for over 4 days starting next week! How exciting! Since the film is not set to release until next year, I cannot disclose much information, but the plot of the film is somewhat like the Bourne Identity series. There’s a lot of action, sexy women, CGI, and cool gadgetry.

Hannah and I have been developing scenery ideas, or image “references” for next week’s shoot. I have developed an interest for art direction and set/property design after researching image references. Once you begin to direct your attention to details of a specific time, theme, set, etc… you really begin to put possible props/designs into the yes or no pile. For instance, the overall look for this film is what TG may call “sleek, sexy and sophisticated”. Therefore, we’ve been looking through images of very contemporary, modern designs that are simplistic in print and minimalist in material… but surreal in shape. I’ve always been a person who has an eye for things but who cannot necessarily put it together… this job is inspiring me to get my hands dirty.

In our search, Hannah and I found this beautiful beautiful chandelier light fixture. A square frame hangs from the ceiling and then “invisible” wires hang around the entire “surface area” of the frame to create a three dimensional shape. Then, on the ends of the wires there are strings of crystals and each wire’s crystals begin further up or further down the wire to create a 3-D design. We are inspired to make one, but may need help from my industrial design friends. 😛

Mostly, the AD team is just preparing for next week’s shoot. We joined onto the project at a slow period. Collaboration in a feature film is incredibly intricate. One department cannot complete their tasks until another reports, so sometimes it can get a little slow. The ADs make a lot of phone calls and coordinate things between different departments (costume design, production design, actors, etc.) We have postponed meetings 2 days in a row due to illnesses in particular departments, so everything gets complicated. Hannah and I look forward to attending a dance rehearsal with the actress of the scene we’ll be shooting, but due to illness that has been pushed back too. Maybe we’ll be able to learn something while we’re there… if she feels better in time. ☺ Also, we’ll be meeting with the Director of the film and the Production Designer to discuss the references that we’ve contributed. Hannah and I are ready for more work, but I’m sure we’ll get it thrown at us next week hopefully.

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Adjusting

Sometimes I forget about the inspiration that I find in mess and ruin.  When I was in 7th grade, I wrote a descriptive essay about all of the junk in my garage; every time I drive through Syracuse and see the old ruins of what were once glamorous Victorian houses, I think about scenes of a movie that could be shot there.  There is something I find beautiful about the way things look when they are worn down.  I think that is why I find the slums so visually intriguing.  They are run down, slouching, colorful, lived-in, uneven and intertwined.  I love all of the little details you can find in them – they’re not clean cut like a brand new building.  Random thought, but reflection-worthy.

Mumbai has started growing on me.  The more time I spend in this city the more comfortable I feel.  Walking out of Akhila’s yesterday and looking up at the buildings of South Bombay, a sweeping peaceful feeling came over me.  I still can’t put my finger on why it struck me just then, or why I felt that way exactly.  I think maybe it comes back to juxtapositions.  Logistically speaking, you would think that a city like this would fail miserably just because there are so many things that contrast with one another.  There are industrial slums right next to looming modern skyscrapers, the immensely rich side by side with the immensely poor, this overwhelmingly chaotic and crowded atmosphere that just…works.  Miraculously.  Somehow.  I don’t understand it.  And I like that I don’t understand it.  I have just come to accept it and move with it instead of worry about it.

I guess that brings me to my last point, which isn’t fully developed yet, but I’m in the process of hopefully figuring it out.  I think that this city is teaching me how to relax and just trust the things going on around me.  That’s not to say that I’ve let go completely, but sometimes I tend to overreact and neurotically worry about things.  I have come to realize that things will work out.  Mumbai is helping me learn to just go with the flow and let things happen instead of trying to plan every single moment.  Right now, I’m not worried about anything and it feels really good.

mGm

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“Thwack!” “Thwack!” Accompanied by the rumble of the nearby train, men and women whipped wet clothes against the cement cubicles of their outdoor Laundromat village. Situated against the backdrop of high-rise buildings and bustling streets, the people, or dhobi ghats, bustled through troths of water, zigzagging clotheslines, and piles of the city dweller’s dirty clothes (and apparently ours as well…). Coming from a land of quarter-sucking washers and dryers in the basement of my dorm, I was amazed at the industry and the vibrant setting of the bright clothes and lines bouncing off the surrounding browns and grays of the shack rooftops. In some ways this image describes the juxtapositions of the classes, people, and jobs all located within this city. During our tour of Mumbai we climbed the social ladder from the slums of Dharavi to the Taj hotel in South Mumbai (or “town” as I’ve been told the area is called) seeing and experiencing a 12hour dose of city highlights.

Beginning in Dharavi we walked through both industrial and residential areas of the slums, and yes there are both. I went into the experience anxious and naïve about the slum culture (outside the clips in Slumdog Millionaire). People (myself included) think that the slum inhabitants are lazy people who sit around all day and then beg for money on the streets. However, during the tour I was amazed to see and learn that there are actually 10,000 different industries within the slums. Everything from breaking down plastics to sewing clothing is done in the area with teams of workers who seem to enjoy the community bonding. Walking through the area children always stopped and waved at us to say hi, staring at us curiously and sometimes following us along. I kept thinking, “I can’t image ever living like” but I also had to remind myself that this is all they know and it’s what they’re use to and where everyone they care about is together.

After a couple more stops we finally reached South Mumbai and visited the Taj Hotel and gateway to India. The Taj was one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever seen, with marble floors, waterfall pools, and up scale stores. Situated directly across the street was the Gateway to India, also looming over the crowded streets below. Even on the same block as the palace-like Taj, people of all walks of life gathered under the archway.

Later that night after gaining a second wind, Aamir, Jill, Hannah, Andrea, and I joined some friends from Whistling Woods for a night out. Traveling by rickshaw, my vehicle decided to pull a “video game move,” as my friend jokingly called it, and swerved just in time to avoid a Mercedes Benz making a quick sudden turn, I was again reminded that the only thing lying between me and road kill was a canvas rooftop…totally safe. Getting out of the rickshaw we entered a lounge/restaurant that overlooked the beach and had plush couches and cabanas straight out of a tropical resort guide. The lavish scene made me forget that we were still in the same city we had just driven through. Although I live near Washington, DC and I have seen the range of lifestyles in a city, here it’s set to more extreme levels. A couple homeless men sleeping in a metro station is substituted with entire communities living in wood shacks across from glass skyscrapers and mini malls. While out with our Indian friends one of them explained that Mumbai runs under a system of “organized chaos,” like a rickshaw I guess you just have to hold on and trust it.

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Touring Mumbai

On Saturday we all went on a tour of Mumbai and I can’t speak for the rest of the group but I am so happy we went. Even though I was not prepared for a two and a half our tour through the slums in the scorching sun and humidity after a night of only 4 hours of sleep, it opened my eyes in a way I never thought possible. A general assumption some people make about poor people is that they are just lazy and not motivated enough to get a job.

While I’ve never been that extreme in my opinion on those struggling with poverty, I always believed that it was a situation most people could not get out of because they either don’t have the money for transportation to and from work, they don’t have the clothing to make a good first impression, more qualified people are readily available, etc. But after visiting the slums in Mumbai I realized that what is portrayed to the rest of the world as just poor people huddled together, doing nothing worthwhile is a completely ignorant and false statement.

Walking through the slums I saw almost every single person working hard. The slum is a hidden recycling industry. The hard working people of the slums collecting things like used plastic and cardboard going through the recycling process to they can be reused by the companies. I also learned that the slums largest product they produce is leather.
It was also very surreal leaving the slums and then traveling to South Mumbai and seeing the extreme opposite. In South Mumbai its such a nice area that the rickshaws are not even allowed to drive around there. Walking into the Taj hotel I felt as though I was even being looked down upon by the people staying there since I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and sweating from the rest of the tour.

Regardless of where we went on our twelve hour tour, the slums, South Mumbai, and all that’s in between, Mumbai is beautiful and I can’t to keep exploring it.

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Just got back from my first day at my internship and OH MY GOD, I’m in love.

I probably shouldn’t talk in detail about what I’m working on, rights and all that, but let’s just say that I am helping edit and creating character sketches for a screenplay which will soon be pitched. And I love it! The story is wonderful – reminds me strongly of Joyeux Noël (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0424205/) which, as a favorite of mine, is a great comparison. The characters have a lot of potential to be very interesting and well rounded, and it looks like it will be my job to round them out. Exciting! 

I feel like such a dork for being this excited about writing – my heart is literally pounding and I’m grinning like mad and all I did today was stare at a computer screen for 6 hours straight, but I guess that’s a good sign, as I want to be doing this for the next 80 years or so. 

So tomorrow I get to go back and work on creating people out of names and ideas, and try to really figure out this story – did I mention that all the dialogue is in Hindi, which I don’t speak? lol

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I feel as though I have had a minor case of writer’s block. A lot of the experiences here in India need to be digested. We do so much in one week that it feels as though we’ve been here for a year. It is hard to ingest, digest, and interpret one day after the other in order to write a blog. This experience will be easier to reflect upon in retrospect, but there are definitely many things that I have been thinking about and keeping mind of as we’ve gracefully moved through this past week. Where to start?

To make sure that this is not some unfocused, boring, objective blog, I’d really like to focus this entry on energy, interconnectivity, and harmonium. I’ve noticed in the past week that there is a general (and I mean general, because I’ve only observed as an outsider) unity in the hearts of Hindustanis.

As Hannah and I sat in Powai with the Whistling Woods Int’l coordinator, Aili, we discussed the Hinduism faith. People here feel as though their duty is to strive for a better future life. People are therefore not hostile toward one another because they blame their imperfections and life obstacles on their behavior in a previous life. They “deserve” what life hands them and hold accountability for that. For the most part, it seems as though they accept their places in society and lack aggression towards others. As Aili mentioned, if someone tried to instill a faithless, capitalist national code and told the people that the reason for their poverty was due to those above them, economically, in life, hostility would most certainly infiltrate into society. I know this may seem like a simple concept and an obvious one at that, but take a moment to think about the effect that this idea of accountability has on culture.

As a policy studies major I enjoy studying societal problems (yes, that sounds depressing, but it’s true). In India, crime is not necessarily “violent” in a Western sense. Of course, due to the conservative Hindu faith, there are rapes due to a lack of sexual expression, but people do not murder one another constantly. Of course there is hostility between Muslims and Hindus, but these reasons are due to faith instead of financial status. It is refreshing to see people live faithfully. We Americans share one faith, and that is a faith in money. It creates such superficial societal problems and an overall convoluted idea of fulfillment and what life is really all about.

With that said, I have felt a general interconnectivity vibe-like energy while being here. The traffic is chaotic, but aggression does not drive people to become impatient. People weave in and out of eachother’s personal space without becoming offended, annoyed, or agitated. The tension that Americans hold is incredibly unhealthy and feels so tangible. We constantly get frustrated with one another and elbow one another (metaphorically) to reach our superficial end result. In the Hindu faith, people seem to have positive attitudes and live in poorer conditions because they have faith in their gods and access them on a personal level. They do not have to go through a “superior” human to reap the benefits of their faith. They worship when they choose and they do it for their own advancement. This results in peace. I admire that a lot and it surfaces everywhere in Indian culture…subtly… like in something as simple as traffic patterns.

But you can observe the effects of faithfulness in many other aspects of society than just traffic. For instance, during our Bombay tour yesterday, we were exposed to many landmark places that have been upheld due to the faith of the people. For instance, Dharavi is Asia’s largest slum. As I’m sure someone else has explained in previous posts, there is not a lot of “crime” in Dharavi. They have industries such as recycling, food, and textiles. The people are incredibly efficient in their work. The working conditions are incredibly hard on the body, but they do not seem depressed for the most part. The slum itself reminded me like a large commune all working together in their respective industries.

There is no doubt that these people face difficulties and may not be happy all of the time, but they were not hostile toward us. I feel as though I felt safer in Asia’s largest slum than I would in a slum in NYC. No offense, because I am talking about the slums of NYC in general, but the crime is a lot more fatal. People kill other people, whereas here, there is petty crime like theft, but you only risk losing your purse, not your life. What a small sacrifice in comparison! The people allowed us to view their conditions without becoming ashamed. Their jobs are part of their personalities and they each have a purpose, which, in my opinion, is more than anyone can ask for. Yes, greater working conditions should be demanded, too… but purpose is key in valuing yourself.

I would also like to comment on our experiences at the Taj Hotel. Of course this place has accrued incredible significance after the 11/26 attacks in Bombay. We arrived in South Bombay and throughout the day we progressively observed more and more beautiful landmarks. The Taj Hotel was the climax. The beauty is unexplainable. The fact that it attracts so many tourists is an obvious reason as to why it was a target for the attacks. The grandeur is unimaginable. I felt like one of the many Indians standing between the Taj and the gateway to India as I stared in envy at the elegant skyscraper. The Western quality of the place surely would create tension. Not to say that any attack is justifiable, but I question how upper-class tourists think the world is their stomping ground and how their expectation of luxury is relentless. If I had advice for a visitor, it would be to either go to INDIA or don’t go. Get your hands dirty, get sick, interact with the people, stay at a hostel, take a rickshaw, speak some Hindi, purchase some cheap kurtas, and learn something that may be hard to “digest” (both physically and mentally), but that is real. That is the only way to prevent hostility and to actually be able to distinguish and Indian experience from one in another developing country.

Tomorrow I start my internship on the set of the feature film Prince. Aili said that we will have to be assertive in making sure to get the most out of our experience and to ensure we do not get side-lined. I am incredibly excited and cannot wait to blog about my experiences!

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