New Visions conference brings back old memories

Posted on Thursday, April 22nd, 2021

Like many South Asians, I grew up watching Bollywood movies. When I first arrived in Canada in 2013, they were like a piece of home for me. So I was thrilled to have the opportunity to learn about women in film, working behind the camera as writers, producers and directors, when I enthusiastically signed up for the Research Assistant position with the Canada India Research Centre for Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). My role was to assist with the conference "Women in Films and Media Conference" funded by the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute.

Areej Amer

Even though I had read the abstracts and reached out to presenters as part of the planning and preparations, I still felt a jolt of excitement when University of Guelph President Dr. Charlotte Yates stepped up to inaugurate the conference. "The title of this conference is very fitting - Towards New Visions," she said. "With an impressive line up of speakers, this conference will serve as a platform for a discourse of new ideas."

The experience was eye-opening. I was inspired learning about the struggles that women face, their stories of facing rejection, and overcoming adversity to challenge the traditional gender roles, attitudes and beliefs portrayed in Hindi cinema.

Some speakers made me laugh; some made me tear up. For example, Elahe Hiptoola shared her story about studying law in Mumbai, founding a boutique in Hyderabad, and also producing films such as Hyderabad Blues, reminiscing about asking strangers on the street to act in her movie. Bhavani Iyer shared how she used the grief of her father's passing as inspiration to writing fascinating stories. What inspires her? "I keep a diary," she said. "Writing is cathartic for me and it inspires me."

I felt a close, encouraging connection with the presenters as they worked behind the scenes to bring movies to life. Women like Dr. Sharada Srinivasan and Dr. Aysha Viswamohan inspire me as they brought this conference to life. Such initiatives are important; they allow students like me to connect with South Asia, to dream big and learn to make space for ourselves through the stories of people who started out just like us.

I left the conference feeling content and excited for the future, my mind buzzing with ideas and questions. And now I'll be the one asking the questions: almost right away, I was recruited as a student writer for CIRCLE, to curate research profiles and stories. I look forward to this opportunity to showcase research related to India and Indian diaspora. I'm eager to continue learning in an interdisciplinary environment at CIRCLE.

Areej Amer is a student writer for CIRCLE. She is completing her third year of a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences degree at the University of Guelph.

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