Content Note: Depicts sexual assault. Names of relatives have been edited for family security.
In Hollywood and Bollywood, fans often pay attention to the #MeToo movement when a story comes from a high-profile movie star. But what happens when one of those fans is a family member hiding abuse inflicted upon you?
You are not alone.
I left abusive environments to pursue an education and embark on my path to what many Hollywood nor Bollywood stars do not have: a Ph.D. in fame. My goal? To honour my mother who was forbidden from becoming a Bollywood film actress and stage dancer on the grounds of sexism, and to overcome the harassment I continually face in my own life. After receiving my Ph.D., I went on to launch the Centre for Media and Celebrity Studies (CMCS), which inspires women to take creative and financial control in the post-Weinstein era of Hollywood. The journey to where I am at this stage of my life was not simple. Long before I found my voice, I faced a great deal of inequality as a woman—starting in my own family.
On February 5, 2018, a year after my father took his last breath, I called my uncle, Sailab Nandy, with whom my father’s eldest brother, Mahesh Nandy, was also living. I was nervous about the call. Dark memories washed over me every time I thought about Mahesh Nandy. Despite my grandfather’s wishes, Mahesh, who was the firstborn son, believed he was exclusively entitled to the family’s multimillion-dollar inheritance. He acquired my uncle Sailab’s assets through coercive practices and fraudulent signatures with the aim of funding his drug-addicted, school-dropout sons. One of them, Souvik Nandy, demanded that I masturbate him.
When Mahesh answered my call, I found myself at a loss for words. My sense of defeat was fuelled by the lack of evidence surrounding the situation. That, and the challenge of admitting to the sexual harassment permeating our liberal family. We had predetermined narratives of love and sexual harassment did not reflect those ideals.
‘It’s Samita. Is Uncle Sailab there?’
‘He’s out for a few minutes. How are you doing?’ asked Mahesh.
‘Well, it’s the anniversary of my dad crossing over,’ I swallowed.
‘Yes, yes,’ he replied, his pitch moving from high to low. Then he chuckled and said, ‘You know, I always thought your dad would have lived way longer than us, but he took his own life.’
‘What are you talking about?’ I stammered but continued on to say: ‘My dad was the most hardworking, positive person I knew!’
‘He was depressed! Why else would he have buried himself in work? Look at the rest of us, enjoying our retired lives.’
Before I could share how my father and I loved our time spent at cafés, or cooking at home, or traveling together, Mahesh overtook my words—just like his son overtook me when he forced my hand on his penis.
‘Look, when your father was little, he had typhoid and memory loss. A part of his brain was damaged. You understand, Samita? Damaged!’
‘He was a very hardworking person,’ I retorted, my heart sinking deep in my chest.
‘And what about your hard work — your name and fame, as I see on Facebook?’ Mahesh mockingly continued on, disregarding my words.
‘I’m working in New York but wish to spend time where my dad wanted to settle — at your home near Calcutta. I feel lonely and want to extend my work in Mumbai. Perhaps I can fly from your home, as Uncle Sailab suggested?’
‘With the name and fame you have in New York, you should be happy where you are,’ retorted Mahesh.
Well aware of my international phone bill, I told him I needed to hang up but promised to call back later. And yet, the call did not cut off when I said goodbye. In the background, I overheard faint voices—the voices of two men who assumed I was no longer on the other end of the line.
‘Sailab, listen,’ said Mahesh. ‘Samita is a problem. She does not know what she wants at this age!’
Hot tears rolled down my cheeks as he spoke of me, my dad’s only child, on the anniversary of his death. I wanted to disconnect the phone, but I needed to hear the truth—no matter how much it hurt to listen.
‘Those Western people are obsessed with the material things, you know?’ said Sailab, breaking my trust then and there.
‘Look, she can come in a couple of months,’ my eldest uncle continued. ‘We will make her sit down and explain that her fantasy will not work. She can visit but she cannot stay.’
My common-law partner saw me shaking. I disconnected the line because I had heard everything I needed to hear. To this day, I can still hear my uncles’ voices over the phone.
‘I am a problem?’ I cried, turning to my partner. ‘His sons dropped out of school—they were on drugs, they were perverted and abusive—but I am the spoilt kid? My father failed to raise me? Despite my education, despite my trying to please them, this is what they talk about behind my back?’
My voice trembled and I buried my face in my partner’s chest. No matter how educated a woman might be, some will still see to it that she feels powerless and does not have a voice of her own. I remember my father telling me this unfortunate truth.
This was not the first time a woman had been silenced or excluded in my family. My mother’s youngest sister was kicked in her pregnant belly by her husband Ananda Dutta. Ironically, he was still put in charge of all the weddings in our family despite the tensions in his own marriage. In 2015, he verbally abused my aunt, my father and I when we were asked to share the reasons for our plant-based lifestyle. When we gave him the facts, he yelled and falsified research; he once ran a chicken farm on his terrace and claimed he knew everything as a result. I then blurted out my imperfect feminist practice: “I do not keep men like you in my social circle.” Yes, I found my voice in the face of my uncle’s harassment. However, the exclusion of men like this does not resolve the issue of gender inequality.
In fear of losing my voice for good, I worked my way towards becoming Dr. Nandy. I earned my Ph.D. in fame, founded the CMCS and now take pride in helping other women find a voice in a post-Weinstein era.
“Find your voice”—that’s the key phrase here. We stand strong together, but has it been easy? Obviously not. Yet in my life, I managed to change gears and turn adversity into my own version of success. Success is what life can become, no matter how imperfect it is: Find your voice.
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March 20, 2023March 21, 2023 4min readBy Nida Hasan
If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking.
I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.
— Smriti Mundhra
As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.
In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.
For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.
At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.
In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Ghoomer,” R. Balki’s latest directorial venture, had its world premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2023 (IFFM), earlier this month, and the moment was nothing short of memorable. Lead actors Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi, were present to unveil their labor of love to the world, and all three were left speechless at the reaction of the global audience; the film received a standing ovation on opening night, leaving the team extremely emotional — a feeling that Bachchan tells Brown Girl is one he cannot put into words.
“Ghoomer,” tells the story of Anina (played by Kher), an exceptional cricket player who loses her right hand in an accident. Downtrodden and with no will to live, Anina finds a mentor and coach in Padam Singh Sodhi (played by Bachchan), an insensitive and brash failed cricketer who helps her turn her life and career around; Anina also has the unwavering support of her husband, Jeet (played by Bedi). Sodhi teaches Anina unorthodox techniques to make her mark on the cricket ground once again. Enter, ghoomer, a new style of bowling.
Balki checks all the boxes with this feature — his protagonist is a female athlete, the film is his way of giving back to cricket (a new form of delivery), and he highlights the idea that nothing is impossible for paraplegic athletes. The heart of Balki’s film is in the right place — Kher mentions that the film is meant to be more of an inspirational movie and less of a sports-based movie. One can only imagine the impact that a film like this would have on an audience that’s hungry for meaningful cinema.
And, to chat more about “Ghoomer,” Brown Girl Magazine sat down with the stars of the show. Bachchan, Bedi, and Kher came together to talk about their inspiring characters, the filming journey, and how their film aspires to change the landscape of cricket and paraplegic athletes in the country. It was all that, with a side of samosas.
Take a look!
The featured image is courtesy of Sterling Global.