India Students Hub to host first Women’s Film Festival in D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The India Student Hub (ISHUB), an Embassy of India education team initiative created to connect, inspire and support thousands of talented Indian students in the United States willing to help co-create #NewIndia, will host a Women’s Film Festival Feb.28 through Mar. 1.

The theme of the Festival is ‘Insights from the Women of Bombay’ and after the opening night at the Indian embassy in Washington, D.C. on Massachusetts Av., N.W., the film screenings that are free and open to all, will be held Feb. 29 and Mar. 1 at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and Georgetown University in D.C., respectively.

According to the education team at the embassy, headed by Roopal Shah, the Education Adviser at the embassy, “Our belief is that the future of India is in the hands of the youth. By providing a platform for Indian students in the USA to connect and share their talents, passions, research interests, and efforts, India Student Hub becomes a powerful networking space where ideas are born and collectively we engage in creating a stronger #NewIndia.”

It said its role “includes supporting Indian students studying in the US, promoting India studies, and building stronger U.S.-India ties through academic collaborations and exchanges.”

Shah, an alumna of Harvard University and the University of Michigan Law School, and one of the co-founders of Indicorps told India Abroad, “The Women’s Film Festival is an excellent example of young people setting the example for #NewIndia in several ways, including the vision of highlighting films that promote conversation regarding the emotional intelligence and feminine divine energy that women in the 21st century can contribute to the world and the ways that young people can promote people to people diplomacy.”

She said, “In a few short months, these young women — many of whom have never been involved in a film festival — selected the films, found venues, secured film permission, created promotional materials, organized panels, and built momentum around the event.”

Asked about the rationale behind the theme ‘Insights of Women of Bombay,’ Shah said, “the Festival is a collaborative effort by a group of 5-6 female Indian students and Mrs. Hemal Shringla (Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s wife) who share a passion for Indian cinema and female empowerment in India.”

Shringla, professor of Indian Multiculturism, World Cinema and the History of Cinema, who stayed back in the U.S. and did not immediately follow her husband to New Delhi, according to Shah “has been a partner and guiding force in making this film festival happen,” and said the Festival is a special women-run film festival, hopefully with a different theme focus each year, to manifest more feminine divine energy in the way India and the world moves forward.”

Shah acknowledged that the theme is also “an outgrowth of Mrs.Shringla’s 2019 Bollywood and Bombay presentations (on Nov. 6 at the Meridian International Center in D.C.) designed to draw upon Indian cinema for cultural diplomacy.”

“Mrs. Hemal Shringla has mentioned several times that Indian cinema has tremendous power as a medium for cultural diplomacy, particularly since both the US and India have strong film industries and robust vibrant film schools.”

Thus, “Cinema in India plays a disproportionately large role in Indian lives and cinema is an excellent way to communicate and further ties,” Shah said, and noted that “the selected theme runs throughout the films as each represents the realities, resilience, and strength that the women of Bombay embody.”

Shah also said the Festival also acquires particular significance “as the year 2020 is significant for women's rights movement globally as it marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action and the 20th anniversary of the Women, Peace, and Security agenda launched with UNSC Resolution1325.”

“So the festival is also to commemorate these milestones of women empowerment and to advance a feminine voice in shaping a #NewIndia, by a team of Indian students from varied backgrounds who have come together to organize this first-ever India Student Hub Women's Film Festival.”

The team leads of the Indian students behind the festival — DivyaRajan Sriram, Sunakshi Chowdhary, Mansi Dinakar, Cherie Singh and Zara Farooq —in interviews with India Abroad, said that although they came from varied fields of endeavor, organizing and coordinating this first Women Film Festival as members of the ISHUB ranged from empowering to a major learning curve and helping to shape leadership skills to developing the power of humanistic values of hope and compassion.

Rajan-Sriram, an inter- and multi-disciplinary performance artist and storyteller foraying into designing site-specific immersive storytelling experiences now engaged in the final project for her master’s degree in fine arts, majoring in Theatre Arts, said, “From brain-storming several themes to finally witness a tiny idea develop into a women’s film festival that wants to share stories of empowerment, with #FempoweredFilms feels fulfilling and meaningful.”

Chowdhary, who currently works as the Biorepository Core Technical Lead for the George Washington Cancer Center and has a biomedical master’s degree from Georgetown University with the focus on tumor biology, said, “Although I have always been pursuing my career choice of biomedical research, I have been actively involved in pursuing my non-biology interests by organizing on-campus cultural festivals, dance performances, and now, this film festival.”

“I have always been a movie buff and organizing this festival gave me an opportunity to combine my love for movies and women empowerment,” she said. 

Chowdhary said, “I am involved as a collaborator and as a student lead for handling the film festival at Georgetown University, and for someone who has always been raised and around strong women personalities, I was very much driven to be a part of an all women team organizing this film festival and to shine light on strength and success stories of Indian women.”

“It has been an inspiring journey of learning and working with a very empowered team of women to create, what we hope for, is an annual celebration of women tribe,” she added.

Dinakar, an undergraduate student majoring in mechanical engineering, said, “My goal is to go to flight school to become a commercial pilot and simultaneously start a business of my own,” but that “working on the India Student Hub Women’s Film Festival definitely has helped me shape my leadership skills, which is a valuable asset for my future.”

She said, “By being an integral part of this initiative, I have got the opportunity to work with strong women from different backgrounds but with the uniting thought of #NewIndia. The thought of showing Indian women of different fields in a new and positive light to the world that not many people are aware of inspires me to keep continuing this festival.”

In this regard, Dinakar said, she would also take this festival on the road and would be “hosting a smaller version of this festival in the New Jersey Institute of Technology.”

Singh, currently a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in in International Affairs with a dual concentration in Global Gender Policy and International Development, while at the same time being an aerospace engineer, said, “During the four years of my undergrad, I volunteered with several NGOs at various capacities which gave me an impetus and made me realize my true passion.”

She said, “As a volunteer-intern with the Education Team of ISHUB and a student with an interest in women’s issues, I was especially moved by the idea of organizing a women’s film festival and decided to be a part of the team.”

“The idea that a women’s film festival can and will inspire others to help bridge the gap between gender inequalities is what inspires me to continue,” Singh added.

Farooq, currently a senior set to graduate in spring with a B.S. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution and minor in International &comparative Studies, said, “Over the course of my college career, I have helped organize and manage events related to conflict analysis, international relations and peacebuilding..”

She acknowledged, “Working to help organize a film festival is definitely a first for me and gaining an insight into the world of film and more on women and gender has been a major learning curve.”

Farooq said, “The need to surround myself with strong, independent women and work towards becoming one has always been a priority for me, and the Women’s Film Festival immediately resonated as a platform where empowered women could connect and share their stories, struggles and more.”

“This opportunity was not only to highlight the accolades and journey of women in general, but Indian women specifically. We wanted to shift the lens away from our delicious food and Bollywood romances for one weekend to simply appreciate how far the women of India have come,” she said.

Asked what they hope to achieve through this film festival and the take-aways by the audience, Rajan-Sriram said, “I hope we can knock patriarchy on its head.”

She acknowledged, “Okay, it will take a while before that happens, but these are baby steps in that direction. But we hope to sensitize people to myopic stereotypes of women and create awareness of the divine feminine in its true holistic sense.”

“To create a better tomorrow, we need to work on mending our today. Young minds are the future, and as students we hope to be the change we want to see in the world,” Rajan-Sriram said.

Chowdhary said the whole team has been endeavoring to “bring a diverse audience together and we are hoping our hard work will yield good results. We hope that we will be successful in presenting to the audience a unique yet crucial way of looking at the world--through pink colored glasses.”

Dinakar said, “As this event is being held in a college environment, I am expecting students of different nationalities and majors/study fields to show up at the event, as well as the faculty from my college campus and the neighboring college campuses.”

Singh said, “If I had to anticipate the outcome of the festival, it is that the audience makes a determination to be a critical agent of change in society--to understand the complexities of intersectionality, to take action to bridge the inequality gap in their environments and to be a transformative force in achieving equality for women, men and the queer community.”

Farooq said, “In organizing this event with four fellow Indian women, I’ve learned that there are no boundaries to what we can achieve. By sharing one common goal, we aspire to inspire our guests and hope that they can leave feeling as empowered as we have felt over the last few weeks.”

“Inclusivity and educating a diverse audience has been our priority and we hope to see many faces,” at the festival, she added.

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