MY JOURNEY TO BE A FILM MAKER
Shonali Bose (OS84)
I was Mirabai in Sanawar directed by Aunty Pheroza (wife of Headmaster Shomie Das) in our Founders Play of 1983/84 and for many years I was known as that to parents of Sanawarians. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. My mother, an acclaimed actress herself, was so proud of me – I’ll never forget that bonding especially as she died a few years later. I never dreamt then at the age of 18 – that I would one day write and direct myself and not for the stage but film!
Heady had predicted I would follow a career connected with social justice and that was what I was most passionate about and wanted to pursue. I wanted to teach young people History and galvanize them toward social change or I wanted to practice law and bring it about in that way.
While I was in my final year at Miranda House where I was in fact in History Honors – my mother died or rather was killed by the negligence of doctors and hospitals during a minor surgery. She was only 42 and at the peak of her life and career. I was so angry with the system (including the fact that they could get away with it) that I just needed to leave India and I accepted the only thing available to me – a scholarship to do a Ph.d at Columbia University in Pol Science.
I didn’t like this approach and so I quit after my Masters and managed to get a job at a cable television station in Manhattan. All my pieces were socially or politically relevant and it felt exciting and empowering to create things which led to discussion and debate.
I later applied to proper film schools and was lucky enough to be accepted at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and TV for an MFA in Directing. The minute I directed my first narrative short film I knew I had found my calling.
My first feature film was ironically indirectly connected with Sanawar. Many of my friends were “serds.” I didn’t think of this identity at all as they were a seamless part of the country as were all of us from different regions. Me being a Bong. In my first year of college the massacre happened – where Sikhs were killed in cold blood in the capital city by goons of the ruling party. I worked in the camps from the very beginning and understood the politics clearly.
Many years later, when I graduated from film school – not a single feature film had been made on the 1984 genocide and so I decided that this was what my first film would have to be.
The film – Amu – took 3 years of my life and a bitter struggle but went on to open at the Berlin Film Festival and then win 2 National Awards for Best film and Best Director. More important than that was the fact that thousands of Indians who saw it (leave alone foreigners) said they had no idea of the enormity of what had happened and how organized it was. The film led to a campaign demanding that the guilty be punished. The entire film industry from Vishal Bhardwaj and Gulzar Saab to Aamir Khan and HemaMalini praised and loved it. My Columbia University Professor and History Professors from MH said – it’s a good thing you quit academics because this is a more powerful tool of teaching history and politics! I think that’s the best compliment I’ve been given. It may sound like I’m blowing my own trumpet but the reason I’m mentioning all the praise is because there is an enormous pressure on artists to either be commercial (box office) or arty – never never stoop to politics in their art. This is utter bullshit! All art is political because it either represents the status quo or strengthens it or it challenges it. So for Amu to get praise in Bollywood and from the intellectuals was a real feat.
I thought with all the accolades I wouldn’t have to struggle with my second film. But Margarita, With a Straw has been even harder to make than Amu. Because the lead character is disabled and gay. Double whammy! I definitely don’t choose easy subjects. Why did I choose this? Again it was from a personal incident in my life.
My first cousin Malini was born with cerebral palsy (a condition where your motor skiils, not emotional and intellectual – are impaired). We were brought up together doing all the same things. Until we became adults and I got to date and she didn’t. It was a painful reality for both of us as teenagers and I was very conscious of this disparity. In fact many of my Sanawarian friends were with her in St Xaviers College Bombay and did their utmost to integrate her in the normal teenage life of partying. And then I forgot about this as my mother died and I went to America. Many years later – I asked Malini (she was 39 and I was 40) what she wanted for her 40th birthday as it was the best birthday ever – and she replied – I want to have sex! This threw me completely and made me think about how I had neglected this huge thing in my sister’s life. That was the spark of the story of the film. Other events in my own life – the loss of my 16 year old son Ishan – took over and I wrote from a deeply personal place. In fact this will probably remain my most personal film. I can’t imagine being so emotionally naked and honest and vulnerable again. Those of you who have seen it will understand.
I am thrilled with the response to the film at international festivals and at home in India. It’s the kind of film you feel nervous about the older generation of aunties watching. But it’s amazing to me how much older people have embraced it and been able to deal with the sexuality. At many of these screenings all over the world there have beenSanawarians and their families embracing me with all their love and knowledge of me for so many years. There’s nothing as special as that bond of school friends. Thank you all so much. Your support means everything.
And thank you for giving me this space in the OS magazine.
(Amu can be watched on youtube and Margarita, with a Straw official dvd releases in late June 2015.)
ShonaliBose(OS84) is an Indian film director, screenwriter and producer.
Dr Harish Dhillon (OS57) was honoured by Punjabi University, Patiala for his contribution to Punjabi culture and literature. His daughter Naina and son in law Rajiv received the honour in his absence from Shri Sukhdev Dhindsa, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha. The link below carries all information of the felicitation.
Heartiest Congratulations from the OS fraternity!
Capt Rohit Sen Bajaj (OS 88) joined Pathways School Gurgaon as School Director in 2014. Pathways is a well known IB school in the NCR.
Having served in the Indian Army for five years prior to joining the world of education. He started is career with Doon School and then went on to head Oakridge International School Hyderabad.
Rohit has been awarded the title of IB Recognition Ambassador– and is among the few exclusively selected from India.
An authorized IB evaluator for IBDP schools across the world, Rohit’s skill and expertise enable him to lead and guide in curriculum enhancements as well as incorporating best practices across curriculums.
Congratulations from the OS Fraternity!
OS Reunion Toronto Canada - 12 Apr 2015
by Anjum Siddiqui(OS87)
A beautiful sunny day it was, the very first we had in quite a few days. We all gathered at the Arizona Pub & Grill in Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto area, for drinks and general tomfoolery. The venue was very welcoming, a private spacious party room, with a bar, lots of seating for larger and smaller groups and two big pool tables in the centre for who ever wished to play.
The room was buzzing with animated chatter! We were all from various batches, with decades between us. The oldest OS being from the batch of 1965 and the youngest from batch of 2010! But regardless of our age groups… we all felt like we were back in high school on the hilltop! There were twenty eight OS who attended, some with their spouses, who too joined in with the whole school spirit, and made the event a smashing success!
The highlight of the afternoon was the impromptu school song we all started singing. A shaky start, but soon we all caught the momentum and sang the whole first verse pretty well.
It was indeed a lovely afternoon with friends and schoolmates. The camaraderie and the goodwill was abundant. A lot of great ideas were shared for the future of the Toronto OS chapter. We hope we are able to materialize some of the objectives, if not all and keep the spirit of 'Never Give In' alive.
Copyright ©2011 THE OLD SANAWARIAN SOCIETY
Site credit NZTechnologies