Asian-American films, program one | Chicago Reader

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The longest entry in this program is Reena Mohan's video feature Skin Deep, an imaginative and polemical investigation of the standards of beauty set for Indian women. Those interviewed represent a cross section of urbanites—body builder, model, socialite, student—and their opinions are reinforced or contradicted by westernized images of attractiveness that pop up in ads, music videos, and movies. Desi: South Asians in New York is a video mosaic of emigres from the Indian subcontinent who now live in New York's five boroughs and are calling themselves “Desi,” which is Hindu for “people of the soil.” To prove the diverse background of the over 200,000 Desi in that area, producer-directors Shebana Coelho and Skjalg Molvaer have included cabbies, computer entrepreneurs, street vendors, and med students—all members of recent waves of immigration—as subjects. Commenting on the diaspora's modern history and the need to forge a new identity is a New York Times reporter, whose opinion is taken as authoritative. The video's pedantic tone seems to be pitched at the high schoolers, but the series of mini-profiles is undeniably informative. Sonali Gulati's Sum Total and Sheila James's Unmapping Desire are video shorts with similar feminist messages and poetic mise-en-scenes, in which montages of words and close-ups of bodies and caresses are accompanied by mesmeric ragas on the sound track. Also on the program are Hajira Majid's Ifti, whose subject is a gay Pakistani poet in Chicago, and Jam Invalid by Nishtha Jain.

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