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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Growing up in India

Growing Up in India, a film and photographic series at the Mondavi Center for Performing Arts sheds light on the economic and social issues embedded in Indian culture. The film series began this past Monday with a screening of Salaam Bombay! and concluded Tuesday with the movies Udaan and Pink Saris. The series was a part of the UC Davis Middle Eastern/South Asian studies department’s attempt to raise funds for an Indian Studies program.

People across the globe know India today as an emerging economic power; with Bollywood’s record as the largest film producer in the world, the number of jobs outsourced to India skyrocketing, and the standard of life changing rapidly to mimic first world countries. It is often easy then for the onlooker to overlook the deteriorating conditions of the poor. The gap between the rich and the poor in India is ever-widening as the rich get richer while the poor find it hard to afford two decent meals a day.

“There are lots of problems in India, exacerbated by the fact that some parts of the country haven’t caught up” said Sudipta Sen, a professor of the department of history at UC Davis. “This series is a singular testament of an open society where these struggles are no longer hidden. In this series, through three different lenses we see the faces of India that most people don’t think about.”

Salaam Bombay!, directed by Mira Nair was nominated for the 1989 Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film. It is the story of Chaipau nee Krishna who is abandoned by his mother and forced to live on the streets of Mumbai. The movie follows Krishna as he attempts to make a living on the streets in the hope of someday returning to his mother, in the process befriending drug pushers, prostitutes and the like in Mumbai’s Red Light District. Despite more than a 20 year gap between 1989 and 2011 the film invokes equal parts horror, sadness, nostalgia and hope in viewers even today.

Pink Saris which was the second film in the series revolved around the “Gulabi Gang.” An all-woman group from Bundelkhand, India; the women of the gang, clad in the eponymous dress, attempt to fight the prejudice against women in India’s traditionally patriarchal society in addition to the country’s deeply rooted caste system. The movie tells the story of Sampat Pal Devi — the gang’s matriarch who vehemently battles for the rights of girls and women on the lower end of the social and economic ladder of India. These young girls and women are married at a young age into abusive families, happen to belong to the “untouchable” caste known as the “Dalit” caste, or are victims of India’s age-old sexist customs that live on through caste bigots. The documentary, directed by Kim Longinotto, is set in rural India but the message resonates across the globe for women who are either abandoned or fall victim to domestic violence.

The series closed with the screening of Udaan, a 2010 film directed by Vikramaditya Motwane. The movie is centered on 17 year old Rohan who belongs to a typical lower-middle class Indian family. Rohan is forced to move back home with his father and his 6 year old half brother Arjun after he is expelled from the boarding school he attends. Rohan’s relationship with his father is strained at best. In fact the father is an abusive alcoholic whose self absorbed lifestyle alienates both his sons. The word “Udaan” means to take flight and the movie follows Rohan as he finds courage in his teenage bravado to escape his father’s petty tyranny. The movie is a powerful portrayal of the struggles of children in a country that has a longstanding history of oppressive parenting.

“All three movies describe the experience of growing up where the future is uncertain but full of possibilities — and there is a hope for redemption. There’s hope,” Sen said.

The series aims to bring focus to the experience of growing up in India across economic strata. The three movies that comprise the film series accomplish this goal as their protagonists tell their tales with a basic honesty that is hard to shake.

The photographic exhibition is curated by Dinesh Khanna and will continue through Dec. 18 in the Yocha Dehe Grand lobby and is open to patrons one hour prior to all performances.

SASHA SHARMA can be reached at theaggie.org.

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