India Welcomes a Caribbean “Coolie”

Professor and filmmaker Patricia Mohammed recently made her first trip to India after having spent a decade studying her ancestry and the lives of the migrants who settled in Trinidad and Tobago. Her film, Coolie Pink and Green (2009), was chosen for the Pravasi Film Festival. The Trinidad & Tobago Express has just published Dr. Mohammed’s account of her pilgrimage. Here are some excerpts:

We had come to India to screen my short film Coolie Pink and Green at the Pravasi Film Festival, prodded by the Indian High Commissioner in Trinidad, His Excellency Malay Mishra, to enter it into the first film festival which celebrated the work of non-resident Indians (NRIs) and people like myself, persons of Indian origin, referred to as PIOs. For some reason Indians were now interested in what we were making of India from afar.

[…] Coolie Pink and Green had made its debut in Trinidad at the film festival in September and had won the award for most popular short local film. The film had gained some attention in Trinidad—the title intrigued, the vibrant colours and music sensuously invited the viewer. But it is a film about cultural disruption, resettlement and conflicts and I was intrigued by what Indians in India would make of it.

[…] Coolie Pink and Green made its Indian debut before a huge audience of dignitaries, film buffs, delegates and press. The response was overwhelming. Deepa Mehta, renowned director of the series Earth, Fire and Water, who was the guest of honour at the opening ceremony and who ignited the flame that began the festival, caught Coolie Pink and Green’s message immediately. “It’s visual poetry,” she said to me and laughingly followed up with, “So whom did she choose?” She was referring to the dilemma of the young Indian girl in the film, who is forced to choose between a marriage arranged by her parents and a young man of her own choice who is of mixed-raced descent.

[…] Who wrote the script was a recurring question. The rhyme and reason for this form of scripting, prose and verse resembling the Ramayana and Bhagavad Gita made sense to this audience used to Sanskrit literature. Many were intrigued by the collage of old photographs which showed the early migrants. This was a surprise. In the Caribbean historians have covered the history of indentureship so thoroughly that it seems redundant for a Trinidad or Caribbean diasporic audience to relive this on film. Yet here was an audience of millions for whom this story had yet to be told.

Patricia Mohammed is a professor of gender and cultural studies, and head of the School for Graduate Studies and Research at the University of the West Indies-St. Augustine, Trinidad.    

For full article (India Welcomes a Caribbean “Coolie”), see http://www.trinidadexpress.com/index.pl/article_features?id=161587674

For trailer of Coolie Pink and Green, see http://www.thescorch.com/articles/2009/09/coolie-pink-and-green

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