When a desi is not an engineer? The desi gets f’ed!
Most Indians choose the US to establish themselves in the field of technology, but that wasn’t the case for me. Engineering undergrad was such a shit-show towards the end that I realized that I am not good at anything remotely technical. I was more interested in learning the how and why of something, the story behind it or the real purpose behind it, and I guess that was my creative side of the brain talking to me. It is frowned upon when one thinks like that and people usually dismiss the idea of trying to take a leap into the arts field, why? Oh there is no money there…how are you going to make a living? You won’t be able to support your family, blah blah…I was always interested in films but trying to do something pertaining to that was a challenge in itself because I didn’t know where to start. Luckily for me, my ex at that time and a very close friend of mine now, Smriti helped me do my research and prepped me for TOEFL and GRE.
I graduated from undergrad in 2006 with a first class in my engineering from KJ Somaiya, took a good year and a half off to apply to film schools here, for the grad program. The very thought of shifting majors scared a bunch of my professors from the university but they weren’t hesitant about signing a letter of recommendation. My best friend Siddharth commended me for the switch and said, “I am so fucking proud of you for starting fresh and quitting the tech business.” Actually, these friends were a blessing, for the application process was in itself scary. Quite a few schools were straight up saying YOU HAVE TO HAVE A BACKGROUND IN FILM, luckily with my lack of background in film I was accepted at USC’s School of Cinema.
This marked the beginning of wiping the bloody slate clean. I was like this is the one chance I have to make things happen for me and god has given me this one chance in a field that I know dick about! My parents were shocked that I chose to quit the engineering line and become a film maker (which only now they approve of) but initially my mum was very apprehensive about it. Once I got accepted they were happy that I was moving out of the house to be independent. Moving to the states and to LA was daunting. I lived in a shit hole of an apartment which over the first year got worse and worse, because apart from being confined to the courses within film school, I had the shit luck of having the worst roommates known to humankind!
So I started off being really scared and was screwed over from all sides. In class, I used to be the quiet Indian kid who never asked any questions and just tried to smile as much as I could. Little did I know that being the ONLY Indian in my semester in the film production class, I would be the attraction and people would always find ways to chat with me. They wanted to know my story and how I got there. I kinda felt pretty flattered about that. I quickly found friends among my classmates. And unlike most Indians who gravitated towards finding something similar where they are uncomfortable, I was forced to adapt to new cultures and new people, and it was fun. Getting to know my teachers and their teaching methods, and also that they were approachable as friends, was the best part! I also had to make sure that I had an on-campus job that I could make money to pay rent and buy groceries. I was lucky that with my engineering background, I found a post-production job at the editing labs which helped me build my foundation as an editor.
Going to film school wasn’t easy because of how expensive it was, thanks to mum and dad who helped me with paying fees for the first and the third year. The second year I had to take an educational loan with my uncle as a co-signer, which was a huge nightmare in itself. For making all the films that we had to for our classes, we had to spend our own money. So basically the expenditure was a lot and to top it all in a city like LA, not having a car was the biggest curse of all. The first two years I was fortunate to find people to give me rides around, or I would rent a car but it wasn’t easy to ask people to give me a ride.
Everyone in the course had a car. They were from here and had access to a lot of scholarships and loans, which I didn’t have any access to. It was also quite tough to explain my state to anyone because I didn’t want to come across as a complaint-box. It was tough to maintain a ‘cool’ image and struggle inside, which is what I was expected of me. Obviously no one said that, but I knew no one would get me.
The struggle didn’t end there, making my graduation film was even more difficult! I wanted to do it on Kathakali dancers, but that meant spending more money. I had to give that up and choose to graduate with a screenplay. I don’t know what would have happened if I had chosen a school in India, but there were only two renowned schools then, and have reservations. I am not sure if I could have pursued my dream there.
Somehow it seems the world is against people who pursue the Arts. It is a lonely world and you are on your own. I now spend my time as an editor – editing everything from features to commercials and music videos. And develop content of my own, I am a story teller and stories are my life, want to tell them as long as I live. But the struggle is real, and f’ing worth it!