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#Bollywood: Gateway to India 2023

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Media, Film & Journalism Studies

A Two-Week Winter Interterm to Whistling Woods International, Mumbai

Feature  •

In November 2023, a group of Graduate and Undergraduate students from the University of Denver traveled to Mumbai, Delhi, and Agra for a two-week cross-disciplinary Winter interterm course. The class brought together elements of social media filmmaking, Master classes by Bollywood industry experts, a Bollywood dance workshop, yoga, historic monument visits, and shrines, all culminating in a visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra city.

A group of students, teachers, and guides stand in a stone pavilion in front of a building with many arches and columns.

This was Media, Film and Journalism Studies (MFJS) and University of Denver’s first travel course to Film City, Mumbai. The course was designed and led by MFJS faculty member Roma Sur. It was co-led by Geography Professor Dr. Erika Trigoso Rubio. The group consisted of majors from MFJS, Joseph Korbel International School, Daniel Business School and Social Work. The course partnered with Mumbai partners Whistling Woods International (WWI). Director of Academics at Whistling Woods, Rahul Puri says, “having the students and faculty over from University of Denver, last month was another example of WWI’s commitment to international partnerships with institutions across the world. We believe that these global experiences benefit our students and our institution in the most positive way, helping cultures come together, learn from each other and take back home a renewed sense of collaboration and purpose.” Deliverables included short non-fiction films on a research topic of the students’ choice, Instagram reels and reflection papers on the cultural immersion experiences.

Sur, who has previously led three cross-cultural programs in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, each time with the successful completion of a film, says “designing and teaching a travel course for the first time at a new university, is like teaching two classes. I had to learn the processes at DU, design a completely new cross-disciplinary course, recruit students, and work opposite time zones with the partner university. But in the end, it was a priceless experience!” She is thankful to the MFJS Chair, Derigan Silver and Associate Director of Academic Programs, Monica Kosanovich, for their outstanding support to the program. She is also thankful to the Vice Provost of Internationalization, Dr. Uttiyo Raychaudhuri for being accessible to her and her students. During their two-week stay in India, students attended morning yoga sessions with Coach Vandana Trivedi on campus, followed by Master Classes, site visits and team dinners. 

Three Master classes were held by Bollywood industry experts and WWI faculty members. The first 90-minute master class was led by reputed screenwriter Anjum Rajaballi, writer of Bollywood blockbusters, like Rajneeti and Ghulam. He gave a talk on the evolution of Bollywood cinema and the Nava Rasa theory (nine emotions) in storytelling. Film Minor, Maggie Nottberg says, “ I enjoyed his extensive explanation of the different roles that women play in films, and why they are either sexualized or upheld as royalty. He has a wonderful way of explaining these details and themes in a flowing, intricate, and organized way that I really enjoyed.”

The second Master class was that of social media expert, Rohit Prakash. Charlie West, a Communications Major, says “Rohit helped give me ideas on what I can do in the near future to get closer to a position like he is in. I liked when he was talking about youtubers and how they are great at advertising small or big companies in their daily vlogs, or content. Rohit really put a smile on my face.”

WWI nonfiction filmmaking faculty, Rabiya Nazki, did a mini Master class on iPhone filmmaking, which applied to the film projects. In the two weeks, students interviewed experts on their chosen topics pre-arranged by WWI. They were paired up with local cohorts, and hands-on Adobe training was provided by WWI editing faculty, Ashif Ahmed. Lilith Diringer, a second year Grad student at Korbel school, interviewed Meghna Ghai Puri, President of WWI, for her film Lights of Change, about sustainable practices in the Bollywood film industry. Charlie West spent a ten-hour shoot day at Mumbai’s famous world renowned spice market, Lal Baug, for his film titled ‘Exploring Indian Spices.’ Both films are official selections in Colorado Dragon Boat Asian film festival, 2024. These were screened on March 17th at SIE Film Center as part of the Colorado student showcase package.

Alyssa Avilla, a Journalism major student, made her film on Bollywood dance and whether it celebrates femininity or objectifies. She interviewed choreographer Akshay Jain for her film. Grad student of Social Work, Afreen Rasheed went into the interiors of Mumbai to explore the impact of social drama movies, like Padman on the average Indian. Daniel Business school major, Sophia Taylor made her film on women entrepreneurs across the social strata, from street vendors to blue collared CEOs of their own companies.

A group of students and Dr. Roma Sur stand in front of a sculpture resembling a reel of film.

On the first weekend, students visited sites like Gandhi home, Dhobi Ghat, the grand Hotel Taj, Gateway to India and the Babulnath temple situated on top of a hillock. Concert nights included a live Jazz performance at the Nita Ambani Cultural center, live show at Mumbai’s iconic Prithvi theater and North Indian classical music performance at Whistling Woods. In Lilith’s words, “before every song, they explained the background of the piece such as the year it emerged or the different structures that are used for improvisation. Since I danced Kathak during last Fall quarter, I had already heard similar music, but I had always been curious to learn more about its harmonic and melodic fundamentals.”

Upon project completion, the group took a three-day guided trip to New Delhi. Immersing themselves in Mughal history, they took a day trip to the Qutub Minar and Delhi fort. The high point was the rickshaw ride in Old Delhi where a Hindu shrine, Sikh Gurdwara (temple), a church and a mosque, all coexist on the same street. At the end of an eventful day, DU students enjoyed a lavish meal of lamb curry, Mughlai cuisine at a local cohort’s family, and hopped into tuk tuk like auto rickshaws at midnight to enjoy Tandoori Chai straight out of a clay oven.

The trip culminated at the iconic Taj Mahal, the world’s iconic landmark of love, a mausoleum built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved Mumtaz Mahal. Alyssa, an MFJS major, says “I didn’t expect it to take my breath away like it did. I especially loved the symmetry within the architecture. The details at the front of the building were some that pictures on the internet cannot fully capture.”

Sur, who is a big proponent of Internationalization in Higher Ed. says, “these short-term cultural immersion travel courses leave faculty and students with a new perspective on education, lifetime of memories, and cross-cultural friendships and connections that last forever.”

DU is now planning to take this partnership forward, by engaging in a COIL class with its partner university in Mumbai.


Social Handle: @du.hashtagbollywood