Sini Anderson’s documentary The Punk Singer is many things. It has been unfairly criticized for being a glowing highlight reel of Kathleen Hanna’s artistic, feminist, activist, and musical projects bordering on hagiography, and for not focusing enough on the larger movement of feminism or Riot Grrrl. In my view, those misguided criticisms miss the fact that the film, at once fierce and delicate, delivers feminism through a punk rock lens via the life and music of Kathleen Hanna.
Review by Shewonda Leger
The Fob and I (2015). Web series. Directed by Meenakshi Ramamurthy. Starring Shefali Deshay and Uttera Singh.
There are very few web series that center around women of color’s diverse experiences. With an all–South Asian women production cast, director Ramamurthy helps overcome that lack of diverse representations with her web series The Fob and I.
In Meenakshi Ramamurthy’s web series, two Indian cousins adapt to living in Los Angeles. Sita, who has lived her whole life in America, and Jisha, who has lived her whole life in India, share an apartment. Despite their different upbringing they learn from each other’s perspectives, while also establishing a friendship. As we watch their friendship blossom, we experience the ways in which South Asian women adapt to American culture.
At first Jisha’s character is eager to explore a foreign culture, but when she starts to experience frustrations throughout her adjustment, living in Los Angeles doesn’t seem as exciting as it did when she first arrived. Even while facing cultural shock, Jisha makes the best of the situation by connecting her Indian practices with those of Los Angeles. The cousins attend a marathon that unexpectedly turns out to be a color run, as the colorful paint brushes across Jisha’s face, she remembers familiar moments that connect to the Indian Holi festival. The web series then takes its viewers into a buoyant and powerful flashback, where she is back home dancing around the Holi festival with family and friends. Instead of leaving the image to the viewer’s imagination, Ramamurthy gives us a clear picture of her experience at a Holi festival. By doing so, she creates a personal connection between her web series and her South Asian viewers. It also prevents viewers not familiar with Holi festivals from misrepresenting them in their minds.
We get a clear sense of director Ramamurthy’s connection to her own community through her characters. Ramamurthy does an exceptional job of using her culture’s clothing, jewelry, music, and language to represent significant Indian cultural practices despite the web series taking place in a variety of locations around Los Angeles.
Whether it is from Jisha’s or Sita’s perspective, The Fob and I is a relatable web series that all women, particularly those of color, should be able to personally relate to at some point. I was drawn in by Sita’s character, because of how little she knows about her Indian roots. Jisha forces Sita’s character to explore a side of her identity that she has neglected. Sita isn’t concerned with embracing her Indian heritage. Instead, Sita finds Jisha’s teaching moments annoying, not because she has accepted her Hollywood lifestyle, but because Jisha forces her to embrace her roots. Ramamurthy offers a compelling storyline by illustrating multiple ways of adapting to cultural change. The process of adapting is difficult but as the web series shows, it also comes with great personal growth.
In one scene Jisha and Sita order a chai tea latte at an American coffee shop, and Jisha says “tea tea” to the barista to emphases that chai means tea, despite the barista explaining to her that chai means spiced tea. In this incident, Sita is the buffer between Jisha and the barista. When Jisha and Sita go into an Indian bakery, the roles switch and Sita then becomes the outsider, because she does not know the name of the Indian pastries, instead referring to them as “the round ones.” It is moments like this throughout the web series that draw the two cousins closer together and that help viewers get a deep sense of how cultural differences can enrich our lives if handled with the right attitude. It’s an important message in the current political climate where immigrants are being deported at an alarming rate and our president issued an executive order banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
Ramamurthy uses a comical narrative in The Fob and I. The acting is remarkable, helping us experience the actors’ happiness and frustrations. One gets the sense that the actors are so natural because they aren’t hypothetically performing what it means to be South Asian women in Los Angeles, but are actually reenacting their lived experiences in a comical way.
We laugh with Jisha and Sita. We even sing along with Jisha and Sita. Both women draw our attention from start to finish of each episode. Without doubt, we need more web series like The Fob and I that truly capture the lived experiences of women of color. The Fob and I is a short web series worth watching. If you haven’t watched season 1, what are you waiting for? Hurry up before season 2 launches.