AKELI: Self-taught independence in the South Asian diaspora

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Words by Shayma Bakht, edited by Sunayah Arshad

‘Akeli’ (meaning ‘One’, ‘Alone’, or ‘Having no one else present’ in Hindi and Urdu) is a short fashion film directed by Natasha Sumant and Meetra Javed, edited by Sarang Algalikar. The film explores a generational change in the South Asian diaspora, in claiming female independence. Natasha, the founder of bad-ass, Indian-based fashion brand and political platform, Gundi Studios, teams up with Pakistani-American poet, screenwriter and producer, Meetra, to create a beautiful and dream-like film. Shot entirely on Super 8 film by Meetra, Akeli is set in Jackson Heights, Queens - a hub for South Asian culture in New York. Natasha and Meetra met while working at New York-based creative agency Annex 88, and the idea for the film snowballed from a discussion about how South Asian women are never taught how to be alone. Independence for many women in the diaspora feels unfamiliar, new and untaught. Akeli provides important cultural commentary on the self-taught independence being adopted by new generations of South Asian women.

In Hindi, the word ‘Gundi’ translates to ‘female thug’ or ‘female gangster’. A term often used to shame loud, vocal and brash girls. Natasha founded Gundi Studios in 2016 as a way to reclaim the term and celebrate outspoken women, who aren’t afraid to challenge rules and create their own narratives. Through fashion and art, Natasha hopes to empower Desi womxn whilst also covering topics centered around feminism and sustainability.  

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Akeli opens with a shot of Tara Gupta smoking a cigarette indoors, alone. She ruminates over how her Nani had to live without her husband after his death. How she was thrown into the unfamiliar depths of self-taught independence, and forced to break the cycle of existing only to be the subordinate of a father, brother or husband. 

Adorned in a Gundi jumper and jacket, our South Asian protagonist uses fashion as a gateway to her Nani. She paints her nails, combs her hair and wears a bindi like the women before her. Unlike them, she beautifies herself for her own gaze. Whereas before, supermarkets were allocated as the domestic domain for South Asian mothers and wives, the new generation claim it as, “a melting pot of great cosmic energy” - a sanctuary fusing the East with the West. 

Our protagonist walks out into the concrete jungle searching for her shield. A symbol of the new generation of South Asian women, who refuse to hide behind their male counterparts. Independence has been moulded into the diaspora’s identity.

Akeli is an informative, beautiful production which challenges the patriarchy whilst promoting self-care and courage.

You can see more from Gundi Studio’s here

Read more about Meetra here