A PASSAGE TO INDIA

Rishi Majumder chats up with TV producer Simone Ahuja, who has produced a show that juxtaposes dabba-wallis with Bombay Gym’s rugby-playing elite, if you please

Simone Ahuja, and stills from her 'Indique'

Simone Ahuja, and stills from her 'Indique'



Simone Ahuja, a dentist by profession, ventured into a film and TV career four years ago. A resident of Minneapolis, she launched a few days ago the DVD of her TV series Indique – Untold Stories Of Contemporary India in Mumbai. The series airs on over 100 PBS affiliates in the US, besides international airlines including Northwest Airlines and Virgin Atlantic. Indique was made to revamp “the third world images of Shanties and Elephants that the Western media had of India.”
A popular Indian restaurant in Washington DC is named Indique too, because they claim they “marry India with unique”. What’s the reason for your show’s name?
We did call the show Indique for similar reasons — a combination of India and unique, but learned about the restaurant only after developing this name.
This show was created for audiences abroad. What relevance will the DVD hold for Indian audiences, already versed with its contents?
Indique has been well received by Indian audiences in terms of its intention. Though covering contemporary India, the scope of topics explored is broad. We’ve found that many Indian viewers, though they may be familiar with one topic, may not be familiar with all aspects. An example is a “lady” dabbawallah who featured. She walks us through her day at home and delivering dabbas. Many Bombayites have told me they were not aware that women were working as dabbawallahs. Other surprises include, depending on the viewer, ecotourism attempting to sustain biodiversity in Kerala, or exactly what the vineyards of Nasik look like.
Four out the six segments in the series, supposed to showcase India, centre on Mumbai.
Bombay is a great example of a cosmopolitan and diverse metro in India. There was so much fodder for exploration in Bombay that stories within it kept rising to the top of our list.
Some say Mumbai isn’t representative of the real India, but an escape for those who avoid India’s real issues. Suketu Mehta, in Indique itself, called it a “dream city” — which could be interpreted as an escapist’s city as well.
I certainly don’t think the best way to avoid reality is come to a fiercely competitive city like Bombay. The energy in the city is palpable and so its draw is great — but it’s not easy to sustain oneself here, no matter what strata of society one belongs to. I do believe that the
“dream” Suketu refers to assuages some of the difficulties of living in the city, and certainly draws people to it.
You insist on calling Mumbai ‘Bombay’ in your show and in life.
Colloquially, almost everyone refers to the city as Bombay. It’s only in political or some professional settings that I hear Mumbai used in conversation. I chose to reference the city as it is most often by its residents.
A segment in Indique is your documentary short on Rugby in Mumbai, featuring Rahul Bose: Scrum In The Mud. Your company also co-founded the world’s first Rugby International Short Film Competition. Why this interest?
The first time I was really exposed to rugby was while shooting a segment for Indique with Rahul Bose and other members of the Indian National Rugby Team at the Bombay Gymkhana. It became clear during filming, and through conversations with the members of the team that rugby is not really just a sport — it’s a way of life. The athletes who play rugby are generally deeply invested in the sport, and would do almost anything for it. I appreciate the contrast of brutal athleticism on the field, coupled with a fierce camaraderie. The sport is very martial in nature, in contrast to many other sports, and that’s really what I found most fascinating. The film contest is a great way to showcase different aspects of the sport, and to raise awareness about it to general audiences.
As a person discovering India anew herself, what impacted you the most and why?
Shooting with the dabbawallahs, spending time with them on the trains, and in and around the city was inspiring, and humbling. I was particularly moved by the “lady” dabbawallah whose home responsibilities began at 5 in the morning followed by a day of delivering dabbas. When asked if she likes her work, she stated, “Of course I like my work. If you don’t like your work, how can you do it?” This statement and the integrity with which she worked was an experience that I reflect upon often.

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/34v9

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