[This is a post by SRILA NAYAK (@srilanayak on Twitter), a Master's student at Columbia Journalism School is a freelance journalist interested in books, politics and government.]
Shundell Prasad’s "Festival of Lights" opened on November 9, 2012, in New York. The movie portrays the Guyanese Indian community in New York, which emigrated from its politically turbulent homeland in the 1970s and 1980s.
Prasad’s maiden film, which she wrote and directed, tells the story of a family broken up by political violence: 3-year-old Reshma (Melinda Shankar) leaves Guyana for New York with her mother (Ritu Singh Pande). Her father, played by British-Indian actor, Jimi Mistry of "East is East" and "The Guru" fame, is denied a visa to the United States and Reshma and her mother are forced to leave Guyana without him.
The film telescopes the complexities of Indo-Caribbean-American identity through Reshma’s struggles as an angst-ridden teenager in 1980s Queens, NY and her journey to Guyana in search of her father and her lost cultural roots.
A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of Arts, Prasad has worked for HBO and CNN and she currently resides in Los Angeles. Prasad, who moved to New York with her family as a six-year-old, made her debut as a filmmaker with an autobiographical documentary, "Once More Removed" (2007), that chronicled her own journey from her home in New York, via Guyana, to India, a country her forefathers left a century earlier to work as indentured laborers in the plantations of the new world. The film showed Prasad tracing her mother’s lineage to Muzzafarpur district in Bihar through ship records in Guyana.
Shundell’s second documentary "Unholy Matrimony" explored the issue of forced marriage of minor girls in Pakistan.
She answered some questions from SAJAforum about the her career and her latest film.
What did you learn about Indo-Guyanese identity in the
course of filming "Once More Removed"?
To make an independent film about one’s own background is gratifying. I had a fascination with my Indian origins because it was such a mystery to me. In the process of making Once More Removed, I learned that the Guyanese people and other people who got shipped around the world to work in sugar plantations have an amazing lineage that we are a part of. Our families lived in India for thousands of years and the cultural heritage that is ingrained in us simply doesn’t fade away after being outside the country for more than 100 years. There was an amazing sense of completeness for me personally because I had grown up in the West, not having a tremendous amount of Indian influence.
Was "Festival of Lights" also informed by your personal experiences as an American with Indo-Guyanese roots?