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Indian Filmmaker Introduces America to Sandra from Bandra

Meet Paromita Vohra, a filmmaker and screenwriter from Mumbai whose films explore feminism, popular culture, politics and art. Her films have been widely screened, besides being included in university syllabi around the world.

NEW YORK – Paromita Vohra is a deliciously witty and skillful documentary filmmaker and screenwriter based in Mumbai whose films explore feminism, urban life, popular culture, politics and art. Her documentaries and short films have been screened in festivals, besides being included in university syllabi abroad.

“Where’s Sandra?” was shot on a modest budget with key contributions from industry heavyweight — Shah Rukh Khan

I ran into Vohra a few years ago when Manhattan saw a sparkling glimpse of Mumbai’s most famous fantasy glamour girl, Bandra from Sandra, at the screening of her film Where’s Sandra? at the Tamarind Art Gallery in New York.

The Manhattan audience fell in love with Vohra’s playful portrayal of Sandra; the archetypical figure of the fun-loving Indian Christian girl from Bandra who works as a secretary, wears flashy dresses and likes to party all night after a hard day’s work.

The Manhattan audience fell in love with Vohra’s playful portrayal of Sandra; the archetypical figure of the fun-loving Indian Christian girl from Bandra who works as a secretary, wears flashy dresses and likes to party all night after a hard day’s work. The Mumbai stereotyping of the racy, supposedly available Christian girl jostles in Vohra’s film with five skillful interviews with real-life Sandras from Bandra who dispel the overblown myth.

“There is a little bit of Sandra in all of us In the girl who throws back her head and laughs; in the girl who rushes to catch the train to work and the girl who swishes her beautiful skirt as she dances,” Vohra said after the screening.

Vohra’s film celebrates the Christian women in Mumbai who were among the first to join the male-dominated workforce. “Yes, there were jokes at the expense of Sandra from Bandra. They were sexually stereotyped. But the rest of us owe something to these spirited women for being the first to go out there and work,” said Vohra who tells the story of Mumbai through a feminist lens.

“Whenever I have chosen to tell the history of Mumbai, it is not through static monuments and quaint streets with Portuguese names but through the story of women. I have a very personal take of things. It is a very feminist idea. The kind of enjoyment, embellishment, and even the ornamental style of filming that I have comes from a strong feminist viewpoint,” said Vohra, while hailing Mumbai as “a good city” for working women much like Manhattan.

“There is a little bit of Sandra in all of us — in the girl who throws back her head and laughs; in the girl who rushes to catch the train to work and the girl who swishes her beautiful skirt as she dances.”

“Everyone knows that Mumbai is a great city for women. You are safe; you can use the public transport and go to work. Just the way women walk in Mumbai is different from the diffidence you see in some parts of India,” said the filmmaker.

No movie ever gets made without backers and in this case Vohra found some powerful ones. “Where’s Sandra?” was shot on a modest budget with key contributions from industry heavyweights Shah Sukh Khan and Bollywood producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra.

In 2007, Where’s Sandra? was screened in American film schools including Ivy League Brown University, New York University and The New School.

Vohra has directed Partners in Crime, a documentary on culture, markets and the arts; Morality TV and the Loving Jehad: A Thrilling Tale; Cosmopolis: Two Tales of a City and Un-limited Girls which won several awards.

Vohra is also scriptwriter of Khamosh Pani directed by Sabiha Sumar which won the Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival in 2003; A Few Things I Know About Her directed by Anjali Panjabi and Skin Deep directed by Reena Mohan.

Vohra, who was invited to American liberal arts college, Brandeis University, as part of the Soli Sorabjee Lecture Series talked about what drew her to filmmaking.

“Everyone knows that Mumbai is a great city for women. You are safe; you can use the public transport and go to work. Just the way women walk in Mumbai is different from the diffidence you see in some parts of India.”

“I studied communication which was a new course at that time. Then I discovered there was filmmaking and inside filmmaking documentary and for me documentary filmmaking felt like the perfect way to combine your creative and political impulses,” Vohra said at Brandeis.

“People have stereotypes about documentaries and people who fund documentaries would also like to force people into constrained ways of making films, but I was lucky to discover from the people who came to college to show their films that there are a huge range of practices in documentary. I was young and foolish enough to try it and I lucked out,” she added.

Vohra was principal mentor of the British Council-Saregama India Screenwriting Workshop in 2008 and teaches writing for film as visiting faculty in numerous universities in India and abroad.


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