As many of you regulars know from the bevvy of personal information I’ve disclosed via the one-and-a-half blog posts I shared from September 2014-June 2015, I’m a returning AIF Clinton Fellow. During the first ten months of my fellowship I was placed with a boutique production company in Delhi called Mummy Daddy, which was co-founded by a former AIF Clinton Fellow who also served as my mentor. Now that I’ve returned as AIF’s Media Fellow, I’ll be documenting AIF’s programs, creating multi-media profiles on my co-fellows, and creating a series of short videos for an exciting partnership we’re in the process of solidifying (more on that last point, in the near future).
Where many fellows have a distinct project that they design and implement throughout their ten-month fellowships, I had a series of short video projects rotating on roughly a monthly basis while I was with Mummy Daddy. These projects included both client work and partnerships I formed with NGOs and festivals from around the country. Through my Vimeo channel, you might get the impression that my fellowship was focused, well planned, and that I didn’t face much trouble finding work I could call my own – but you’d be wrong.
See, the first few months of my fellowship were rooted in a series of personal failures: failure to find secure housing, failure to deliver finished products at the rate of my more talented coworkers, failure to find my social niche within the often-overwhelming city that is Delhi (turns out that niche was with the other fellows, despite my early effort to create degrees of separation between myself and people I initially viewed as semi-coworkers).
The most pointed, outright failure of mine lied with my one attempt to string together a ten-month project. I made the typical mistake of biting off more than I can chew, and proposed an undertaking for which I possessed neither the resources nor skills to properly execute. The project would be called Seedi – seedi is Hindi slang for a ladder one climbs, figuratively, and I liked the gritty English connotation it carried – which would focus on emerging artists in Delhi. The idea was to combine the abstract, arguably surrealist interviews of Vice’s Noisey with the localized performances of Coke Studio or Concert à Emporter.
For the first, only, and thankfully unaired episode of Seedi, I focused on a duo of emerging hip-hop artists, with whom I’d been connected via my then-roommate. My roommate knew them from his hometown, Patiala in Punjab, and showed me some of their music videos when I got back from work one evening. Their music videos were of high quality, had hundreds of thousands of views, and clearly were made with a sizeable production budget – three factors that my work distinctly lacked, at this juncture. Fresh from, and emboldened by, my first editing success at Mummy Daddy (a well-received video for fashion designer Ritu Kumar), I attempted a pilot episode of Seedi with these artists.
It sucked. It was bad. Terrible. Just plain awful. And its failure was entirely my fault.
I didn’t want to admit that the fault lied primarily with me, at first. In my mind I tried to blame my mentor for not providing me with enough guidance or resources, or the artists for not being as charismatic on camera as they were when we met up over drinks. I even created an internal narrative that the failure resulted from India’s social structure – that these artists were inhibited from saying anything remotely controversial, non-traditional, or actually funny on camera because of how close to home, and their families, they were.
“Why couldn’t Delhi be more like Bangalore, where people moved to from all over the country and lived away from home and had independence, yes freedom! Because that’s how an artist really flourishes, ya know? Not bogged down by the experimental mires of tradition or the prying judgments of family members or the complacent habits of old friends. It’s their fault I sucked at conducting a lively interview and didn’t do enough research on my subjects and didn’t have any crew with me or more than one camera. And shitty sound equipment. That’s it! The fault lies with society, so I really can’t do much about it and may as well call the whole thing off.”
That’s how shallow I sounded, how immaturely I responded to an initial setback.
I didn’t want to admit that I’d talked a big game and couldn’t follow through. I hated thinking I’d done a bad job – and not because I’d put my heart and soul into it, but because I was freaked out that I was having a hard time giving a damn about, and investing myself in, my work in a city I found to be too intense.
When I was leaving Mummy Daddy, my mentor told me that she was pleased with how my skills had developed over the course of the year, and that she could tell I’d climbed a learning curve. On another level, I think she respected that I’d been resourceful enough to leverage my network by identifying various NGOs and festivals who would pay for my travel and lodging costs so I could make them videos…though I doubt she was overwhelmingly pleased that I wasn’t devoting as much time as I could towards Mummy Daddy’s client projects. See, by the end of the year I’d actually gotten semi-decent at what I do, and largely due to the time and effort my mentor had invested in teaching me how to be a quasi-professional. Big ups to my mentor.
Her constructive criticism was that she’d wished she’d pushed me to try again with Seedi, and hadn’t just allowed me to give up at my first perceived failure.
Like with most of her other inputs as my mentor – even when admitting as much royally pissed me off, since it usually meant I’d been unproductive or focusing too much on my social life – she was absolutely in the right. I’m surprised she never threw something at me, like hot coffee. I wasn’t exactly an ideal fellow.
One thing I did learn, however, was that I needed to become far more proficient within my field. Just as importantly, I needed to learn how to select a project whose scope aligned with my capabilities. The experience reminded me of when I learned to surf, where the technical aspects of standing up on the board and maneuvering within the wave were actually less challenging for me than learning wave selection: identifying which approaching waves are worth expending one’s energy upon. I reached out through fellows and friends and found projects for groups that had minimal media representation, and because other people would be affected by my performance I actually did a decent job on them.
Harbor doubts? See for yourself: