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Aasra sponsors 'ABCD' Movie Screening and panel discussion.

Chitra Parayath

Director: Krutin Patel
Screenplay: Krutin Patel and James McManus
Starring: Madhur Jaffrey, Faran Tahir, Sheetal Sheth, Aasif Mandvi), Adriane Forlana Erdos

ABCD, directed by Krutin Patel is a complex, multi layered piece, there is more in this film than meets the eye.
This film, about cultural displacement examines the plight of people straddling two cultures and the great divide between Indian immigrant parents and their children brought up in this country. A tale told with humor and compassion it revolves around the lives of an immigrant woman Anju Mehta (Madhur Jaffrey) and her two grown children, Raj (Faran Tahir), a hardworking accountant, and Nina (Sheetal Sheth),an ad executive. Steeped in tradition and old fashioned values , the mother rams 'culture' down the throats of her children. Nina and Raj, identities in crisis, come to terms with their conflict by the end of the film, a complex resolution that forces the viewer to read between the lines.
The siblings , played with great aplomb by Sheth and Tahir are very alike despite their glaring differences. Sheetal Sheth plays Nina with considerable angst, using promiscuity as a weapon of rebellion and commitment- phobia. She seems baffled and conflicted about her identity through the film. Raj on the other hand, suffers in silence, locked in a loveless relationship, it takes his mothers' passing, for him to break free the shackles of parental and social expectations and seek a new reality for himself.
Challenging the viewer to look beyond obvious cliches, it is not surprising that the film was not a success at the box office, despite doing extremely well at film festivals .

Aasra (Asian American Support and Resource Agency), is a group dedicated to its mission: to empower and enrich the lives of women. Founded in 2001, Aasra has struck a chord in the South Asian community in Greater Boston area. Aasra screened Krutin Patel's film 'ABCD' at the Burlington Public Library on the 13th of April. This was an open event, free to the public, with the screening followed by a discussion. Those present included Anu Bandhopadhya, Kamal Mishra, Geetha Ramamurthy, Shri, Archana Singhal, Vibha Goyal, Pritam Singh, Mausami Sengupta, Arsh Mehrothra, Anil Mehrothra, Rama Palriwala, Vibha Goyal, Neel Vora, Monika Garg, Taruna Garg, Moki Goyal and Pushpa Agarwal .

Anu Bandopadhay at the outset of the afternoon's event introduced Aasra's agenda and its goals. The organization will provide opportunities for women to get together, share ideas and support those in need. Aaasra will work with the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence and Waltham's Support Committee Against Battered Women. Aiming to build a strong foundation of support and the infrastructure to assist women in need, Aasra intends to support its activities through membership drives, fundraising events, private grants and donations. Aasra also plans to provide information and advice on various issues such as health, nutrition, immigration and finance. Future plans include panel discussions, workshops and social events such as book readings. AASRA is an incorporated nonprofit organization, and has filed for tax-exempt status.

Checking prejudice and pre-conceived notions in at the door, panelists and participants sat down to discuss and analyze the film 'ABCD' .
Anu Bandopadhay moderated the discussion with panelists: Arsh Mehrotra, (host of the popular TV show Aap ka Manoranjan) a parent, Neel Vora, a first generation Indian-American and Shipra Palriwala, a second generation Indian-American. The first question on the table is about the expectations Indian parents have of their offspring. Are these too high? Do they get in the way of greater communication and rapport between parents and children?

Arsh Mehrotra, stated that all parents have expect their children to succeed and do well in life, it was these expectations that helped children reach for excellence in whatever they attempted. While not agreeing with her totally, panelist Neel opined that parents everywhere tended to expect for their kids, the successes that eluded them. He implied that parents wanted their children to have all that they themselves never had. A member of the audience, Vibha, said that parents guide their children through life hoping to help them and not harm them. Panelist Shipra observed that the line between guiding and pressuring is thin and very rarely is a comfortable balance in place. With members of the audience chiming in with their opinions, there were some very interesting observations concerning the divide between attitudes of first and second generation Americans.

Taruna Garg, a young lady from the audience, very articulately tried to put some of the issues in perspective. She implied that Indian parents have the notion that only certain careers are acceptable. Kids are forced to choose between a career in Medicine, Engineering or Law. Here, in this country one can choose any career and make a successful living, she said. Kids growing up here realize the hardships their parents faced back home in India with job insecurity and such, but they should understand that it is very different in this country.

Archana Singhal noted that in India parents often made decisions on behalf of their children's education and career choices, but Indian parents here are learning to let the children decide for themselves. Vibha Goyal said that things are changing in India, as children now have more options to choose their career path. All agreed with Anil Mehrotra, from the audience, who opined that communication was paramount, parents and children had to establish a relationship of openness and trust.

More provocative and engaging was the next issue put to the panelists and the audience. In the film ABCD, the immigrant mother mirroring a pattern of behavior common to most Indians, seeks happiness for her children, which translates to an arranged marriage with a suitable Indian boy for the daughter, and a promotion at work for her son. Noting this disparity in thinking Anu Bandhopadhya raised the question of why Indian parents everywhere tend to have such double standards when rearing their children. She asked the panelists and the audience to ponder the issue and discuss it keeping in mind personal experiences as parents and children.

Arsh Mehrotra , at the offset admitted to no such partiality. "The rules in my house were the same for both my children, I worried more about my son than my daughter when it came to driving home at night," she said, with her husband, Anil, backing her up. Neel observed that he noticed this pattern among his American friends as well. Parents, he said, all over the world tend to be more protective of their daughters than their sons. Shipra, an only child of her parents, said that she was lucky in that aspect that her parents had raised her with the right priorities. Her mother, Rama Palriwala, jokingly, offered to leave the room when a member of the audience wondered if her presence had, in any way, prompted her daughters' response.

Kamal Mishra admitted quite candidly that disparities did creep up when she was bringing her children up. She cited an example of her late night curfew set for them . Even though her son and daughter were expected to return home at the same hour, she would go to sleep only after her daughter had returned home. Her son getting home safe and sound was important to her, nonetheless, she worried more about the safety of her daughter. Many among the audience agreed with her, though the younger members vociferously argued the point that double standards were more significant and damaging when it came to social expectations.

A particularly interesting remark was that Indian parents often cool and understanding at home, changed their attitude when in company of other Indians. Girls were urged to dress up and act more like 'girls'. Reluctantly but guiltily and with a measure of humor, parents admitted that it was true. Archana Singhal agreed that despite trying hard these issues did crop up, forcing her to examine her dealings with her children more closely.

Shri Goyal remarked that parents want their offspring to learn from their own mistakes, they fail to realize that the lessons have to be learnt by the kids themselves. "Only if they stumble and fall , will they learn to walk"

Archana Singhal added "With this movie, one thing I wanted to emphasize is that life for us here is very complicated and confusing since we are now exposed to and immersed in a culture so fundamentally different from our own. Solving problems on our own in the safety of our homes can be a painful and lonely experience. At AASRA we are not saying that we have the answers to all the problems and we are not here to be disrespectful to our culture and values. However, we want to be part of the solution. We will do this through organizing these kind of events and by offering networking resources."

At the close of the discussion session Anu noted, correctly, that even though no definite resolution was reached, much was accomplished by having this forum to talk and communicate in a non-threatening atmosphere. She reiterated that Aasra would continue to provide a forum and platform for social discussions and debates.

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