The India Center Foundation Creates Platform to Foster South Asian Artistic Growth

[Photo Courtesy: Amritpal Singh]

“Don’t be shy. Get it out there. We will support you.

You read that correctly, future leaders, the India Center Foundation is here to support you and your work.

As a national 501(c)(3) the India Center is an American nonprofit organization, whose mission is to support, present and convene a wide range of events, engagements and initiatives within the Indian and broader South Asian arts, ideas and culture scene in the United States.

Based in New York City, the organization hosts dialogues and exhibitions, mounts programs, engages in debates and works to educate audiences. Home to the stories of a multitude of Indian Americans, the India Center is a platform for not only established but emerging experts and artists of South Asian descent.

India Center Foundation
Photo of Stage from Outside (In)dia — A free performance series expanding the borders of Indian Classical Music in association with Brooklyn Raga Massive and Lincoln Center [Photo Courtesy: Kevin Yatarola]
According to their website,

“The India Center is supported primarily by patrons, foundations and the public. It is not affiliated with either the U.S. or Indian government.”

The idea for the foundation was developed a few years ago when a small group of mid-career Indian-American professionals made an observation of the lack of institutions homegrown by the diaspora looking across issues of culture, identity, ideas and the arts. Even though the South Asian community was growing in size and influence, organizations committed to the growth of young creatives were unheard of.

This encouraged Raoul Bhavnani, Priya Giri Desai and Raj Goyle to create change and found the India Center Foundation in 2016. 

Now having grown as a group, the foundation consists of a culturally, professionally and traditionally diverse eight-person board that has supported a range of programs, artists and coverings nationwide.

They have developed programs with some of the best-known institutions like Lincoln Center and the Museum of the Moving Image while supporting and hosting the work of individual artists, writers, public policy practitioners, community leaders and human rights experts. 

India Center Foundation
Photo from India Kaleidoscope Film Festival: A film festival dedicated to celebrating India’s regional cinema presented in collaboration with Museum of the Moving Image

[Read Related: How Embracing my Creative Side Helped me Publish my own Book]

The India Center Foundation has created a philanthropic platform to support the work of established and emerging South Asian leaders in a range of creative and related fields in efforts to broaden the definition of what it means to be Indian in America today.

“To be Indian in America today is a complicated dynamic. I think it means you are focused on the past and the future. You are pulled by ties to ancient traditions and animated by the ability to create a new reality in America.”

 “You are feeling the excitement of endless possibilities but worried by ever-present prejudice and retrograde thinking. You want a better country,” Founding Director and Board President of Board President of the India Center Foundation Bhavani, said.

We, at Brown Girl Magazine, had the opportunity to speak with Bhavnani, on the organization’s foundation, mission and journey.

“There is a growing interest in the arts, culture and identity in the United States diaspora and the number of people in the community pursuing artistic careers today, especially amongst younger generations, is just exploding and so we felt that there was a big opportunity,” Bhavnani said.

According to Bhavnani, those who were involved in the founding of the organization noticed that the Indian American community was much less organized compared to some other immigrant communities when it came to creating major institutions in the United States focused on creativity and the arts.

India Center Foundation
Photo from ‘India’s Identities Through Bollywood Cinema: How Bollywood See Us.’ Panel at Lincoln Center Presented as part of Bollywood Boulevard and Lincoln Center Out Of Doors Summer Concerts

While a range of organizations already served the American diaspora, they focused mainly on historical, cultural or regional identity, language, or religion. Other existing organizations focused on career, professional development political engagement and leadership.

“A few have ventured into the arts, some with a certain degree of success.  We were motivated more by long-standing US organizations that have had national, mainstream influence…the major museums, galleries, arts centers, and festivals.  We also explored those that have addressed Asian culture as well as Western culture,” Bhavnani said.

They wanted to see which organizations were thinking creatively about younger audiences as well as of the evolution of classical art forms in an American diaspora context.

According to Bhavnani, the first few generations of the South Asian diaspora immigration waves tend to be most focused on establishing themselves, integrating into the new country, building a family and personal wealth.

“Generations that follow tend to be less focused on setting down roots and husbanding resources than expressing themselves and their identities in the new culture and thinking what kind of a societal impact they can have.”

“I think this has been the experience of this diaspora, especially.  It’s not that everything is easy a couple of generations in – many in our community still struggle for resources and to establish themselves. And yet, there is a need for self and community expression, now more than ever,” he added.

[Read Related: Why We Need to Break The ‘South Asian Mentality’ of Success]

India Center Foundation
Still from the Outside (In)dia concert series with Martha Redbone and band  [Photo Courtesy: Sachyn Mital]
Over the last two years, the foundation has not only held various events that have helped build relationships with major institutions but worked to educate audiences on culture organically through art.

According to Bhavnani, the relationship between Indian and American culture is one of respecting exploration and improvisation. It means holding up the heart of a tradition while allowing it to flourish and evolve in a new setting.

“We let our work and the work of our partners do the educating.  We feel that exposure and support for different art forms and ways of thinking is at the heart of a vibrant democracy.  Our audiences are educated by the experiences they have through our programs and partnerships and the reflections they have on what it tells them.”

india center foundation
Photo from Women, Diversity and Leadership Panel at Roosevelt House hosted by India Center Foundation [Photo Courtesy: Amritpal Singh]
With expansion and outreach, the India Center Foundation hopes to support a wider array of artists, organizations and creative communities nationally. They hope to ensure that the arts continue to form a powerful element of what defines this diaspora and its success in the United States. 

“We have seen how members of this diaspora have scaled to the highest peaks of their careers and how increasingly they are entering public life through government and politics,” Bhavnani said.”

“We see the arts, social activism and public discourse as a critical dimension to building leadership and influencing mainstream society, but also an area that requires a lot of community support. We want to help lead this aspect.”

The India Center is always seeking to connect with new people and new partners including artists, influencers, volunteers, funders and audience members. Visit their website to learn how you can get involved.

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By Aysha Qamar

Aysha Qamar is a writer, poet and advocate based in the tri-state area. She currently serves as BGM’s News and … Read more ›

‘Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani’: A Perfect K Jo Showcase Celebrating the Filmmaker’s 25 Years in Cinema

Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani

It’s always a flamboyant affair of colour, emotions and grandeur when Karan Johar directs a film, and his latest blockbuster “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” is as K Jo as it gets. After recently being recognised at the British House of Parliament for 25 years as a filmmaker, Johar is back to doing what he does best — bringing together families and star-crossed lovers, but this time with a modern touch. He makes a decent attempt at showcasing progressive ideals and feminist issues while taking us on this family-friendly ride.

“Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani” is a larger-than-life film revolving around the love story of a boisterous Rocky (Ranveer Singh) from a wealthy Delhi family, and Rani (Alia Bhatt), a sharp journalist from a progressive Bengali household. And of course, despite belonging to completely different backgrounds and lives, our protagonists, in true Bollywood fashion, fall hopelessly in love through a string of slow-motion gazes, warm embraces and some truly breath-taking song sequences in Kashmir’s snowy mountains. They are then forced to face their opposing families which brings along the family drama in the second half of the film.

The plot is not the film’s strongest point — there’s no real surprise about what’s going to happen next, and yet the film doesn’t fail to keep audiences engaged and pack an emotional punch. This is down to its strong acting, witty dialogues and K Jo’s classic, beautiful cinematography.

K Jo

Ranveer Singh sinks into the skin of his character with ease – not only does he make the hall burst into laughter with the help of perfectly-timed gags but he pulls off those dreamy gazes ,expected in K Jo’s heroes, to evoke that typical, fuzzy-feeling kind of Bollywood romance. Alia Bhatt’s intelligent and undefeated character is no less a pleasure to watch on screen — not only does she look breath-taking in every shot but her feminist dialogues earn claps and cheers from the audience as she brings a progressive touch to this family drama.

[Read Related: ‘The Romantics’: Revisiting the Legacy and Grandeur of Yash Chopra With Filmmaker Smriti Mundhra]

Albeit, while Bhatt’s dialogues do their best to steer this film to the reformist drama it hopes to be, some of Singh’s gags and monologues on cancel culture bring out bumps in the road. The film could have done better to reinforce its points on feminism and racism without using the groups it tries to support as the butt of jokes.

There is also a case to be made about how long these Punjabi and Bengali stereotypes can go on with often gawkish displays of Ranveer’s ‘dilwala-from-Delhi’ character among the overly-polished English from Rani’s Bengali family. But it is with the expertise of the supporting cast, that the film is able to get away with it. Jaya Bachchan in particular is as classy as ever on screen; the stern Dadi Ji holds her ground between the two lovers, while Dada Ji Dharmendra,  and Thakuma Shabana Azmi, tug at our heartstrings showing that love truly is for all ages.

K Jo Rocky aur Rani

Saving the best to last, it is the film’s cinematography that makes the strongest case for audiences to flock to the cinema. The soul-stirring songs steal the show with their extravagant sets and powerful dance performances that treat the audiences to the much-awaited cinematic experience of a K Jo film. While audiences may already be familiar with the viral songs, “What Jhumka?” and “Tum Kya Mile“, it was the family-defying fight for love in “Dhindhora Baje Re” that really gave me goosebumps.

Overall, the film does exactly what it says on the tin and is a family entertainer with something for everyone. It will make you laugh, cry, and cringe at times, but nothing leaves you feeling as romantic as some old school Bollywood with a mix of new school humour, in true K Jo form.

Stills Courtesy of Media Global House



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By Anushka Suharu

Anushka Suharu is a British Indian journalist, with a Masters in Interactive Journalism (City, University of London) and a BA … Read more ›

Redefining Manners: British Asian Priya Kansara Talks About her Latest Film ‘Polite Society’

Priya Kansara

Weddings, huh? Talk about a stress fest. And for the bride, it’s like a 24/7 walk on eggshells. However, add in a paranoid and overprotective sister, and you’ve got a recipe for a completely different degree of drama. In “Polite Society,” Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) and her gang of clumsy pals take the phrase “till death do us part” to a whole new level as they plot to “steal” the bride — aka Ria’s own sister, Lena (Ritu Arya), during her shaadi reception. But with a wedding hall packed with guests, a mother-in-law from hell, and a groom with more shades of fraud than a rainbow, this heist is anything but smooth sailing.

It goes without saying but “Polite Society” comes with a cast of wacky characters, gut-busting one-liners, and an action-packed heist sequence, making it a must-watch for anyone who loves a good comedy. I mean who hasn’t dealt with some serious wedding drama, am I right?

Lead actress Kansara agrees wholeheartedly. “I definitely have!” she chuckles, as I catch up with her at Soho Hotel in London. Despite the rubbish weather outside, Kansara is a ray of sunshine with her infectious enthusiasm.

The minute I read the script, I thought to myself…wow, playing Ria is going to be one wild ride!

[Read Related: Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History — A Review of Sundance’s ‘Polite Society’]

And wild is definitely the right word to describe her character. Ria is a British-Pakistani martial artist-in-training from London, determined to become a professional stuntwoman. Her sister, Lena, who dropped out of uni, often ends up being the guinea pig for filming Ria’s stunts for YouTube, including one lovingly dubbed “the fury.” She reveals

I’d never done martial arts before this film. The stunt training started from the day I got the role, and it was three to four times a week all the way until we finished filming. It was a seven-week period in total, and boy, was it physically demanding. Oh my God, I think I can add a whole new skills section to my CV! But on a serious note, it was so much fun and we had an amazing stunt team. They, including my stunt double, taught me so much. It was important to me to do my own stunts as much as possible, but also strike a healthy balance.

For South Asian women, who are often expected to be quiet and agreeable, all that punching and kicking on set must have been cathartic, right?

Honestly, it was like anger management at work! I got to kick and throw things around — it was the perfect balance.


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A post shared by Priya Kansara (@priyakansara)

What sets Kansara apart from other actors starting out in the industry is her ability to draw from her own life experiences to bring authenticity to her characters on screen. Her career began with a degree from UCL and a communications job at a pharmaceutical company. But today, her versatile range and unwavering commitment to her craft have propelled her to the forefront of British comedy, portraying defiant South Asian women we’d love to see in real life.

From my own experience as a South Asian woman, I’ve always been told to do what’s ‘proper’ and think twice before speaking up. Playing a character like Ria and putting myself in her shoes, I felt like I was doing and saying things that I wish I had done at her age. It was almost like living through her and speaking my mind about things I never did.

Without a doubt, every South Asian woman on this planet wishes she cared more about herself and less about what other people think.

Ria totally inspired me. If only I had her mindset when I was younger, my career path would have taken off way sooner instead of worrying about other people’s opinions.

The chemistry between the cast members on and off-screen is so apparent, especially the sisterhood between Ria and Lena. The wild adventures of a bride, and her paranoid maid of honour navigating through family drama, are bound to create some unforgettable moments on set.

[Read Related: ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’: A Modern-day Exploration of Love Across Cultures]

We both confess our love and admiration for Nimra Bucha’s portrayal of Raheela, Lena’s evil mother-in-law and share a teenage fangirling moment:

I’m obsessed with that woman. There’s something terrifying yet ultra sexy about her character in “Polite Society” that’s mesmerising. I absolutely loved the dance sequence. As South Asians, we’ve all grown up watching Bollywood films and idolising Madhuri Dixit’s iconic dance moves. “Polite Society” gave me my Bollywood heroine moment, and it was a dream come true with the costumes and jewellery.

It’s definitely a unique experience for Kansara, considering her former career was worlds apart from entertainment. So, what advice does she have for aspiring actors who may secretly wish to pursue the same path, but are unsure of the next steps? Kansara advises, drawing from her character’s heist-planning skills.

I believe starting small and honing your craft is an underrated superpower. If you’re passionate about acting, make short-form videos, and build your portfolio. You never know who might be watching.

So, grab your popcorn and your sense of humour, and get ready for “Polite Society” — the film that proves that sometimes, the most polite thing to do is kick some butt and save the day. It released in cinemas on April 28th, and I highly recommend it.

Photo Courtesy: Universal Pictures

By Queenie Shaikh

Desk bound by day and travel bound all other times – Queenie thrives on her weekly dose of biryani and … Read more ›

Anita Verma-Lallian Launches Arizona’s First South Asian-owned Film Production and Entertainment Company

Anita Verma-Lallian

Indian-American commercial real estate and land consultant Anita Verma-Lallian launched Camelback Productions at an event held in Paradise Valley, Arizona, Jan. 7. Billed as the state’s first women-and South Asian-owned film production and entertainment company, it will focus on South Asian representation and storytelling, according to a press statement issued by Verma-Lallian. The announcement follows “Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s $125 million film tax credit for film and TV production that was introduced in July 2022, “ the statement added.

The Jan. 7 private launch party and meet and greet introduced investors and supporters to what’s ahead for Camelback Productions.

Noting the “major push to see minority groups represented in the media over the past few years,” Verma-Lallian said she wants to see more South Asians represented. “I want my children to see themselves when they watch TV. I want my daughter’s dream to become an actress to become a reality. Skin color shouldn’t be a barrier to that.”

The event opened with remarks from Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, who has served as the city’s 62nd mayor since 2019. She welcomes the company to “the greater Phoenix community.” She expressed confidence that “the team will attract some of the country’s top talent to the Valley.”

Guests at the event included actor and comedian Lilly Singh, actor Nik Dodani, Aparna of Netflix’s “Indian Matchmaking,” Bali Chainani and Anisha Ramakrishna of Bravo’s “Family Karma” fame, and Paramount+ executive P. Sean Gupta, to name a few.


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A post shared by Anita Lallian (@anitavermalallian)

The company is Verma-Lallian’s first venture into the film industry. She is known for providing full concierge services for land seekers and developers of all types of sites and assists investors in discovering viable properties in the Phoenix area through her company, Arizona Land Consulting, the statement added.

Named in honor of the iconic Camelback Mountain in the Valley, Verma-Lallian says she wants her production company to have the same indestructible foundation. Camelback Productions plans to begin its first project later this summer.