by Cassie Jones, Media Intern
This past November, the Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC), a New York City based not-for-profit arts organization partnered with Mahindra– a market leader in multi-utility vehicles in India – to hold a five day [MIAAC] Indian film festival. The annual event screened 47 films, featuring work by established and emerging Indian filmmakers from national and diaspora communities.
Executive Director and founding member of the IAAC, Aroon Shivdasani has used her passion for the performing arts as well as her background in marketing, advertising and media research to fuel IAAC’s mission to build an awareness of Indian artists and artistic foundations. Shivdasani believes that “the arts reflect life and we should pair the two as much as possible”.
Supporting local organizations dedicated to initiating conversation about artists who craft their work around cultural and societal issues, becomes a tool to raise awareness among the South Asian Diaspora here in North America. Shivdasani’s partnership with Sakhi stems from her involvement with the organization before founding the IAAC: “I have a high regard for [Sakhi’s] work, its ethics, the women it helps as well as the awareness it builds for prevention of domestic violence and rehabilitation of the [survivors].”
Regarding IAAC’s partnering with local and external organizations, Shivdasani states, “social causes rank high in the films screened at our festival. In order to maximize visibility for our filmmakers as well as for subjects that need attention, we choose to partner with relevant organizations involved with those subjects”.
The IAAC’s mission is to act in service to Indian arts. Over time, it has allied with other non-profit organizations also working toward empowering South Asian, national and diaspora communities. This year, Sakhi partnered with MIAAC as a sponsor of two films, Soma Girls & Sixteen Blades of Grass, which align with the domestic violence education and prevention/empowerment advocacy of the organization. Jaskiran Mathur, a long-time Sakhi and former board member, moderated the Q & A that followed the screening. Mathur feels participating in an event such as this was, “an opportunity for Sakhi to join in a celebration of empowerment and reiterate its commitment to a positive proactive and constructive approach in recognizing and responding to structural and social constraints that keep women from realizing their innate potential.”
The content of these films tackles disturbing issues, which are still overlooked for many reasons by inviting viewers to arrive at their own conclusions and rethink the role of women particularly of young girls in Indian society. Through documentary filmmaking, directors Nandini Sikand and Alexia Prichard (Soma Girls), and Sweta Vohra (Sixteen Blades of Grass) unveil the gender disparities currently seen in Kolkata’s red-light district and village schools in rural Gujarat respectively.
The themes of empowerment, education and self-sufficiency highlighted in both films speak to Sakhi’s mission and tireless efforts to break the silence around the realities of power and control in abusive relationships. Speaking of the films, Mathur also remarked that “both projects [were] exceptionally successful in depicting fortitude, stoicism and optimism in the face of economic and social marginalization. Hope is a persistent motif and the recognition of the difference individual efforts and micro solutions can make, comes through loud and clear. Awareness and resolve, it appears, can go a long way in changing attitudes, overcoming constraints and honing perspectives”.
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