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July 23, 2014

Amol Pavangadkar: Learning through lenses

July 23, 2014

Amol Pavangadkar is a senior producer and outreach specialist with the Department of Media and Information in the College of Communications Arts and Sciences. He is a prolific media producer, working on funded projects with a range of collaborators and agency partners. He is a recipient of the prestigious faculty seminar fellowship from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation for 2012 and recently led the study abroad program, Beyond Bollywood: Taste of Indian Media.

The group had just finished their steak…yes STEAK in India, had their last round of mango ice cream, thanked their hotel staff and took their last group selfies. It was 10:15 p.m. and we were having our final group debriefing in the lobby of our temporary home in India.

"Okay producers…this is it. In the next five hours, most of you will be on your way back to the United States and to life as you know it.” My last statement was followed by a few seconds of silence and some uncertain glances from the students.

After some housekeeping announcements, I was surprised with a gift, which will be my most prized possession in my office—a full size cricket bat with autographs and kind words from each of the students. While I was slightly embarrassed with this immensely thoughtful gift, one young lady asked me how I felt about our pilot program.

The timing could not have been more appropriate for me to think back on what our group had achieved. I had learned as much as the students or even more. That’s what a study abroad does to you. Even the instructor becomes a student. The experience is much beyond academic learning; for most it is a lesson in humility, a lesson in adjusting, and just reinforces the mostly privileged life we enjoy in the U.S.

You learn about the local politics and current affairs from the driver, about the celebrity sightings and current shooting schedules from the doorman, the weather from the rural farmer, and of course the latest academic and industry trends from the visiting faculty and experts.

Amol with students in India

Eleven students and myself spent 29 days traveling all over India learning about the culture, the society and most importantly the media in India.

We spent the early part of the trip at the largest film city complex in the world, Ramoji Film City, near Hyderabad, India. The initial presentations and discussions helped the group understand the education systems as well as the media landscape in India.

The term Bollywood does not represent more than the dozen film industries in India, but is limited primarily to the Hindi language film industry based in Mumbai. Audiences all over the world appreciate the loud colors, the music, the love triangles and the flash mob style dances in these Bollywood movies. The differences and commonalities between Hollywood and Bollywood are striking and both cater to different target audiences while generating jobs for thousands of people.

While battling their jet lag, the students were still getting used to the sights, sounds, food and smells from the safety and seclusion of the film city.

The second leg of the trip had us move to Pune, the learning capital and second largest IT hub in India. The students found this new venue to be much more happening with lots of shopping options, fast food joints and a college crowd. They showed off their new Indian attire during a traditional wedding ceremony, which featured the Indian family values even though the bride and the groom are settled in the United States.

The tour of the Film and Television Institute of India exposed them to the old styles of filmmaking and associated technology. It also reinforced how privileged they were to get such easy access to high-end equipment in the U.S., while not even facing such tough competition to get into top schools.

The Mumbai Film City is one of the most prolific production venues in the world and we got to visit these iconic sets, which have been featured on the silver screen forever.

The visit to the leading regional news channel, ABP Mazha, provided us with a great perspective on the processing and packaging of regional news against national news. Being on a live news set was awesome and inspiring for most of the students who also were intrigued with international reporting. The 3D animation studio and the render farms provided insights into this fastest growing media sector in India.

The bus rides to the hill stations and forts gave us a taste of rural India and the associated lifestyle and customs. Visiting the Ellora caves, a sixteen hundred old cluster of Buddhist and Hindu caves, was an extremely spiritual experience with the temples and the associated tranquility.

The stay in Delhi was highlighted by the visit to the Rashtrapati Bhavan (House of the President of India), a spectacular and lively cultural show at the Bharati Public School, a Bollywood-themed multimedia show, a VIP tour of the Akshardham temple and a pilgrimage to the Taj Mahal.

The final leg was back in the film city where the group had to produce their Bollywood film, based on their own experiences and challenges faced in India. The film city also organized a choreography team to rehearse and tape a Bollywood-style dance sequence, featuring us as the dancers. This was an amazing experience as they were able to appreciate the efforts for this type of production. It was awesome to have an audience of about 500 onlookers taking pictures of this "international production.”

The challenge for the students was to produce their film in a week, right from scripting to launching the premiere. Ramoji Rao, one of India’s media barons and the chairman of the film city, took personal interest in this project and gave us access to all of his film-making resources to facilitate our project. It was a luxury to have seven different film sets with a full team of professionals with lightmen, set designers, property managers and locations coordinators to assist us. We had a 125-kilowatt generator van follow us for our shoots, which is enough to provide basic lighting to an entire village. The group got really pampered but also inspired by this kind gesture and worked 16-hour days to produce their film.

The camaraderie had developed nicely and disagreements were resolved amicably. For those who have never been on a production set, it is the craziest place on earth, where anything and everything goes wrong and you have to improvise all the time and compromises have to be made.

The actual premiere was more like a royal inauguration with the top tier of the film city administration, film producers and the reviewers in attendance.

Even with the glitz and glamour of the film industry, the most inspiring part of the trip was the interaction with the group of rural women, who manage a radio station and make films about farming practices, social vices and on improving the lives of the lowest class strata of the community. Even though they did not speak English, our group was just mesmerized by their actions and efforts. Our classroom-educated group was being schooled by a brilliant and strong group of women who had yielded the power of media to improve lives.

So getting back to the part of what I had learned from these adventures in India. Our Spartans are fiercely independent and willing to explore the world and appreciate new cultures through their lenses and their hearts.